HC Deb 08 December 1995 vol 268 cc603-78

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

9.34 am
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)

I very much welcome this opportunity to debate an issue that is of the utmost importance to people up and down the country. Crime and the fear of crime, as we all know too well, knows no barriers. It affects and intrudes on the lives of the young and the old, the able and infirm, the family group and those living on their own—whatever their circumstances—and it rightly deserves our continuing attention.

It is all too easy to talk about crime in general terms as we do about the latest television drama or sporting event, but for the victim, crime is not imaginary or easily put to one side. It is real and can have significant consequences for its victims for many months and years ahead.

Against the background of today's debate, I urge hon. Members to bear it in mind that we are dealing not with simple statements of policy, but with the fears and reality faced by many of our constituents. It is our duty to ensure that we bring about a society where it is not the law-abiding citizen who should feel under threat, but those who seek to engage in a life of crime.

The Government are determined to continue to put the criminal in the dock. For too long there has been a depressing view that we are powerless in the face of rising crime; that it will rise year after year and we must somehow come to terms with it. I and my colleagues at the Home Office have never agreed with the nothing-can-be-done tendency. To do otherwise would feed a sense of helplessness and despair. What we need is not despair, but action.

What are the Government's goals in tackling crime? They are the straightforward goals that our constituents want: first, less crime; secondly, safer homes, streets and neighbourhoods; and, thirdly, feeling less frightened of crime. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary recently put it, our goals are

To protect people's freedom to walk safely on their streets. To allow them to sleep safely in their homes. To build a safer Britain. Our approach to achieving those goals is based on clear, commonsense principles: preventing crime, holding criminals responsible for their actions, punishing those who break the law and stressing the difference between right and wrong.

But before trying to tackle the problem of crime, we must appreciate the extent and nature of it. If we were to look to the press for our information, we would, for example, think that juvenile crime in this country was at crisis levels, and that all young people were potential criminals. We all know that that is not the case. The vast majority of young people do not commit crime. Equally though, we must not dismiss lightly a phenomenon that causes so much anguish and suffering.

On 27 September, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the Home Office were able to announce the biggest fall in recorded crime in our history. On top of earlier falls, recorded crime fell a further 5 per cent. during the 12 months to June 1995. The latest recorded crime figures highlight the fact that although the level of crime is still far too high, the dedicated efforts of the police and the community at large can result—and indeed have resulted—in significant falls in the number of recorded crimes.

Those successes should encourage us all to make even greater efforts to tackle crime. Effective policing methods, increased partnerships with the community and the use of new technology such as closed circuit television all contribute to reducing the level of crime.

In total, 5.1 million crimes were recorded by the police in the 12 months to the end of June 1995. That is a fall of 5 per cent.—or 260,000 crimes—compared with the number recorded in the 12 months to June 1994. The fall of 2 per cent. in violent crime is an encouraging development, since although those crimes account only for 6 per cent. of all recorded crime, their immediate effects on the victims and their contributions to the public's general fear of crime are especially damaging.

The recent fall of 5 per cent. in recorded crime builds on a previous fall of 5 per cent. for the 12 months to June 1994. It means that over the past two years, most of the major crime categories have seen significant reductions in the number of recorded offences. For instance, there were more than 175,000 fewer recorded burglaries and more than a quarter of a million fewer recorded vehicle crimes than two years ago. The fall of 162,000 recorded thefts, which includes vehicle crime, combined with a reduction of 221,000 offences over the previous 12 months, has resulted in 380,000 fewer recorded thefts than two years ago.

The welcome falls in recorded crime are part of the longest continuous fall in the number of recorded offences since records began. As I remarked earlier, this encouraging trend is a result of the police's success throughout the country in increasingly targeting those engaged in crime. I congratulate the police forces on their proven ability to target effectively those responsible for crime in their area and on their fostering invaluable partnerships with the community which enable everyone to play their part in tackling crime.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

I agree wholeheartedly with the Minister's last sentence. Does he agree that one of the reasons why the police have been able to target serious crime, which often networks down to, for example, large-scale drug distribution, is the development of criminal intelligence systems? Will he make a statement to the House now about what is happening to the national criminal intelligence service, in view of the publicity in the past couple of days? I ask him, in an entirely apolitical and neutral spirit, to give the House some reassurance that the NCIS will continue to operate and that the Government will ensure that its operation is not inhibited by whatever investigation is taking place.

Mr. Maclean

The hon. and learned Gentleman is right to draw attention to the phenomenal success of the NCIS; it has been one of the best innovations in police intelligence gathering and in the national policing effort in recent years. Its success is acknowledged by everyone who knows of it and by the police service in general. I cannot comment on any internal investigations currently taking place in the NCIS. As the hon. and learned Gentleman will know, Mr. John Stevens, the excellent chief constable of Northumbria, has been asked to investigate and it would not be appropriate for me to comment on any of that. However, I can give the hon. and learned Gentleman the assurance that the NCIS will continue to operate highly effectively, giving police forces around the country and the regional crime squads the intelligence information they need and as a result of which they are so highly successful.

The police are to be heartily congratulated on their success against crime in their areas. The "Partners Against Crime" campaign promotes schemes such as neighbourhood watch. We have enabled that to be expanded and strengthened and new types of partnership, such as street watch and neighbourhood constables, have been introduced. Those schemes not only prove invaluable in the overall crime prevention and detection effort, but give people an opportunity to play a constructive part in combating crime, thereby making themselves and their local neighbourhoods feel that crime is not simply something that should be feared, but something that can be beaten.

Police forces throughout the country attach particular importance to operations which target persistent offenders who are responsible for a large amount of crime in any one area. I know that the police share my concern about the misery caused by crimes such as burglary and car crime and that they are determined to do everything they can to fight it. Increasing the number of detections for burglaries, and targeting and preventing crimes that are a particular local problem are key objectives which have been set for the police. Throughout the country, police forces have undertaken initiatives specifically to tackle those types of crime, often using intelligence-based methods such as crime pattern analysis and targeting offenders.

I am sure that hon. Members will be aware of Operation Christmas Cracker which was undertaken on 5 December. It was the largest operation against burglary that this country has seen, involving 12,000 officers from 40 forces in England and Wales.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Let us wait and see how many will be convicted.

Mr. Maclean

Perhaps that will be the responsibility of the hon. and learned Gentleman and his learned friends.

The police targeted people suspected of being involved in burglary and completed 3,772 dawn raids. In all, 3,327 people were arrested and £1.8 million-worth of stolen property was recovered. The objectives of Operation Christmas Cracker are to strike a major blow against burglars, to transfer fear from victims to criminals, to show that police forces around the country are serious about combating burglary and to persuade burglars that there is a high likelihood that they will be caught.

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

Will my right hon. Friend give further thought to helping victims of crime? Will he give serious thought to introducing victim impact statements, as is done in America? Victims have the opportunity, when the perpetrator of the crime comes to court, to appear and to tell the court and the jury exactly what effect that crime has had on their lives. Many victims in this country do not have such an opportunity. Many of them do not even know when their attacker is coming to court and many are not told, after the court appearance, what has happened. Such a scheme would help the victims in their rehabilitation process. We spend a lot of time rehabilitating the criminal and not doing as much as we should for the victim.

Mr. Maclean

I have a section in my speech relating to victims and I shall deal with those issues then. Suffice it to say at this stage that we and the Lord Chancellor's Department have a raft of measures to help victims. They include generous funding for Victim Support and a revision of the victims charter. I hope that some hon. Members saw the pack we published recently with rather specialist victims' organisations which work with those who, unfortunately, are relatives of people who have been murdered. We have issued a rather special pack to deal with them.

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

Why then did the Home Secretary and the Minister vote against our proposals to ensure that the Crown Prosecution Service had to take into account the impact on victims of crimes when deciding how to deal with matters before the court?

Mr. Maclean

We voted against the proposals for most adequate reasons; they were plain daft.

Operation Christmas Cracker follows the successful operation carried out in May this year against burglars. In this operation, more than 5,000 officers from 22 forces across the south of England and Wales searched 1,828 addresses and made 1,324 arrests. The operation was instigated by the Metropolitan police as part of their Operation Bumblebee initiative.

Operation Bumblebee was started in the No. 1 area of the Met in June 1991. In the first phase, more than 5,000 people were arrested and 8,000 offences of burglary were solved. The initiative went force-wide in June 1991 and there have been seven London-wide operations before Operation Christmas Cracker. Around 4,401 premises were searched and 3,276 people were arrested.

Operation Bumblebee has used an unprecedented mix of operational activities, using techniques that had previously been employed only to investigate very serious crime. A key plank of the strategy and all the other operations around the country, including Scorpion, Bear, Claw and Spider, is targeting the criminals rather than the crime.

The latest statistics on recorded crime show that those initiatives are helping to reduce crime levels nationwide. In the 12 months to June 1995, burglary has fallen by 5 per cent. and vehicle crime by 9 per cent. compared with the previous 12 months. Police officers believe, as I do, that it is by targeting and imprisoning persistent offenders that we can significantly reduce crime. Such operations have already led to thousands of successful prosecutions. The criminals are now aware that they are not going to be allowed to get away with their malign activities.

As Mrs. Pauline Clare, the new chief constable of Lancashire, stated:

Professional criminals whose activities are curtailed by lengthy prison sentences have perhaps the greatest impact on reducing recorded crime. There is no doubt that the fear of imprisonment is an extremely effective deterrent and certainly protects the public from the habitual offender. And so say all of us—or at least, all of us on the Government side of the House.

That said, we have no illusions about the level of crime. There is, as I have said, far too much of it, and we shall continue to back the police in their crusade against the criminal.

Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary plays a significant part in ensuring that good practice is adopted by forces in tackling crime. In 1993 the Audit Commission published a report, "Helping with Enquiries—Tackling Crime Effectively", which encapsulated the principles of crime management advocated by inspectors. It effectively drew together existing good practice and provided a firm basis on which to reassess priorities within criminal investigation departments.

Following that report, in early 1994, the inspectorate, working in association with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Audit Commission, helped to produce a management guide to assist forces. The guide advocated an integrated approach to tackling crime and recommended a more proactive approach to crime management, improved prioritisation of the investigative process, better use of intelligence, improved targeting of suspects and greater emphasis on the prevention of crime.

During the course of the year inspectors have looked carefully at how forces responded. They found that the management guide had enhanced the awareness of forces. Most had instituted some form of crime desk system, which enabled them to target resources more effectively, and had developed crime strategies which incorporated many of the principles in the guide.

The spread of good practice lies at the heart of the promotion of value for money, and is a key responsibility for the inspectorate. In October this year the inspectorate published a report, "Obtaining Value for Money in the Police Service", which followed a major review of efficiency gains made by forces and an assessment of those planned for the future.

The Government's commitment to maintaining law and order and tackling crime was amply demonstrated to the House, to the police service and to the whole country again last week by yet another excellent funding settlement for the police service. Nationally, £6.6 billion will be available for policing in England and Wales next year. That is a generous increase of about 4 per cent., or —240 million, over the figure for 1995–96.

The Prime Minister's pledge to provide sufficient funding for 5,000 extra police officers means an additional £180 million over the next three years, and £20 million is being provided initially next year, which will allow chief officers to recruit 1,000 extra police officers.

We have worked hard to improve the police funding formula. It has been investigated by independent consultants, who concluded that it was technically sound but that further work was needed on a number of aspects. Police service and police authority representatives have helped us with that. As a result, although some work is still continuing, we have been able to make the following principal changes for next year's formula: a reduction in the establishment element from 50 per cent. to 40 per cent., and an increase in the formula's pensions element from 9 per cent. to 12.3 per cent.

On top of those improvements to the formula we have proposed two additional rules for the allocation of police grant. The first rule ensures that all forces—except the Metropolitan police, where other considerations apply—can receive at least 3 per cent. more funding next year. The second rule ensures that all forces will receive a fair share of the additional 5,000 bobbies over the next three years.

The additional rules that we have invented safeguard stability in police funding allocations and make possible real spending increases in every police force. Those results in turn will make decisions on police budgets easier, and allow chief officers to respond to public demand for more high-visibility policing.

The success of the police service in getting crime down deserves our full support. The additional funding for next year demonstrates that every police force in the country is getting full support from the Government, and will continue to do so.

Mr. Michael

Will the Minister tell us what change has been made in capital funding for next year, and whether the total has gone up or down?

Mr. Maclean

We publish the full figures for police funding, including capital funding. Of course there are some changes in capital funding, because we are introducing the private finance initiative. We are encouraging all police forces to grasp that initiative so as to spend considerably more in capital—on new police stations and divisional sub-headquarters, for example—and to share with the private sector the wonderful opportunities for development. Of course, until forces have prepared their private finance initiative plans we are maintaining the major build element of police capital funding.

Mr. Michael

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Maclean

No, I have made my point and I want to move on. The hon. Gentleman can make his own speech, in his usual way.

We introduced those rules to safeguard police funding. And from what I hear at this early stage, I understand that the police service is pleased with its settlement. Police forces understand that this year's settlement of 4 per cent. builds on the 3.8 per cent. increase last year, and they know that the Government are looking after the police service.

Bobbies with long service and long memories can remember 1977, 1978 and 1979, when the police service was sabotaged by the Labour Government, who left office leaving it 8,000 bobbies under strength. The first thing that Lord Whitelaw had to do in 1979 was to recruit 8,000 bobbies, just to bring police numbers back up to what they should have been. Most officers with long service will take with a pinch of salt some of the Opposition's current protestations that they would look after the police service.

The way in which we have looked after the police service is part of our comprehensive strategy to turn the tables on the criminal, and that strategy is now beginning to bite. It includes changes in the law such as reducing cautions, restricting bail, and limiting the so-called right of silence. Those developments, too, are important in tackling crime.

Action against street robbery is one of the priorities that the Home Secretary approved for the Metropolitan police policing plan. I wholeheartedly supported Sir Paul Condon's Operation Eagle Eye, as did the Metropolitan police committee. Like Sir Paul, I hope that everyone in the community will put their wits together to address the problem. There is no excuse for street crime. All citizens, black or white, have a responsibility to condemn the muggers for what they are, and to ask what the police can do to make our streets safe.

I do not doubt that most people want to see uniformed police officers out on the street. That is why that was made one of the key objectives for the police last year. I know from my discussions with serving police officers and with members of the public how much the public are reassured by the presence of uniformed officers in the local community. As Chief Superintendent Brian Mackenzie, president of the Police Superintendents Association, said recently,

What's undeniable is that the public, particularly the vulnerable such as the old, get tremendous reassurance from the patrolling officer". Of course, he is right.

Regional crime squads also play a crucial role in the fight against serious and organised crime. In the past year they have been involved in operations leading to more than 4,000 arrests, the seizure of drugs with a street value of £176 million, and the recovery of £58 million-worth of stolen property, and of counterfeit currency with a face value of another £36 million.

Many of the squads' operations are international, working jointly with law enforcement agencies abroad. One recent operation, which provides a good example of European co-operation, involved regional crime squad officers working with the assistance of the German police. The operation led to the arrest of two Turkish nationals in Germany and another two in London, all four of whom were involved in the importation of £1 million-worth of heroin.

The Government are committed to tackling organised crime, and we have introduced a comprehensive package of measures to tackle it head on. The first stage of the package is the forthcoming Bill to allow the Security Service to provide support to the law enforcement agencies in the fight against organised crime. The increasing complexity and sophistication of organised crime is a cause for serious concern, and we must ensure that the full range of capabilities is available to the law enforcement agencies in order to combat that menace.

The skills and experience of the Security Service in acquiring and analysing intelligence will be of great value to the law enforcement agencies. At present, the law does not permit it to provide assistance. That makes no sense. Accordingly, our Bill will amend the Security Services Act 1989 to allow the Security Service to act in support of the law enforcement agencies against serious crime.

As we have said repeatedly, the Security Service will be supporting the police service, and the police service will remain in the lead. Linked to this measure, we also intend to establish a new national tier of police response to combat organised crime. This will build on the achievements of the regional crime squads. We will not be setting up a "British FBI", as has been suggested by some, but we will ensure that there is a more focused and better co-ordinated response to what is a national problem. Local police forces will remain the primary focus for policing in the UK. We will also strengthen the key intelligence and co-ordinating role of the national criminal intelligence service.

The police are at the forefront of developments in information technology. It is important that they remain so in the ever-more sophisticated fight against crime which will be needed as we approach the next century. The Government are determined to ensure that the right services, strategies and structures are in place to achieve this.

Use of the police national computer continues to grow and around 50 million transactions will be handled this year. Since the introduction of Phoenix in May, the police have been able to retrieve and enter records of arrests and convictions directly. On 1 November, new facilities were added to allow for the first time the recording of cautions on a national basis. When the very complex task of transferring existing records is complete, Phoenix will provide a database of immense value to the police and eventually to the rest of the criminal justice system.

Further enhancements to Phoenix are planned. The most important of these will be a system called QUEST, an investigative facility for searching the collection for all known offenders who meet a particular description. Phoenix will also be linked to NAFIS—the national automated fingerprint identification system—which will incorporate the national fingerprint collection of more than 5 million records.

The system will be rolled out to the national identification service and eight pilot forces in the middle of 1997. All existing fingerprint-matching systems in England and Wales will be replaced by 2001. Common data and system services will be co-located with the police national computer. As William Taylor, the Commissioner of the City of London police, said recently about NAFIS,

This will not be a simple fingerprint matcher, as can be found in bureaux all over the world, but a second-generation full fingerprint management system, the only one of its kind in existence. This will place the UK Fingerprint Service at the top of any league table you would like to devise. The police national network, provided by Mercury, already forms the backbone for both data and telephone communications. It will also be used by NAFIS and is designed to meet the needs of the wider criminal justice community. The PNN is an excellent example of a public and private sector partnership delivering real benefits to all users.

The police use many local systems in addition to these centrally provided services. We must ensure that the investment of some £150 million a year in local systems is used to the best possible effect. In terms of new technology, there is no longer a clear boundary between local and centrally provided systems. To maximise benefits, we now need to think about links between systems as well as planning the systems themselves. That is why the Home Secretary launched the first-ever strategy for police information systems. The strategy is fully supported by chief constables and police authorities and, one year on from the launch, lead forces are already developing cost-effective standard systems which will communicate with each other and centrally provided systems whenever necessary.

Changes to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 gave the police greater powers to take non-intimate samples from people suspected of being involved in recorded offences. The police can now take DNA samples, the profiles from which can be entered on the national DNA database and compared with profiles from traces left at scenes of crime. The national DNA database, which became operational only in April this year, is the first of its kind anywhere in the world. It is revolutionary. It relies on leading-edge technology and the most up-to-date DNA techniques.

More than 19,000 samples have already been entered on the database. For anyone whose DNA profile is held on the database, the risks involved in crime are very high. To date, 118 profile matches have already been achieved. The DNA database is an important tool for the police. The number of samples being submitted by them and the number of profile matches achieved speak well for the continued success of the database. As some of those cases come to court in the next few months, the House will see what an effective tool it is and will understand why I am not able to talk about those successes in detail at this stage.

Another area of technology to which I have already referred is closed circuit television. There cannot be many people who have not noticed the spread of these watchful guardians in recent times. High streets, shopping centres, industrial estates, schools, villages, community centres and other areas have all benefited from the presence of the cameras. The police have embraced the new technology enthusiastically, sometimes running their own systems, but more often working in partnership with others such as local authorities or town centre management committees.

CCTV is overwhelmingly popular with the operators, the police and the general public. It undoubtedly helps to prevent crime, helps the police to detect crime and assists with the investigation of crime. It gives the police extra incontrovertible evidence to help prosecute and convict more criminals, and it reduces the fear of crime among the general public.

CCTV has other, less serious social benefits. Everywhere I go, the police have shown me how they have found lost children, spotted fires in the early hours of the morning and got the fire brigade to them and identified people who have been taken ill on the street.

The results speak for themselves. There are examples of crime reductions from all over the country. I will just give the House a few examples of those. The Newcastle city centre scheme has been running for four years. There have been 800 arrests, and in only six cases did the criminals plead not guilty. It did not do them any good—they were still convicted. In Swansea, up to August 1994, there were 147 instances of taking from a motor vehicle. Since the cameras were installed in December 1994, there have been just 10. That is a dramatic cut.

In Northampton, there has been a 57 per cent. reduction in crime since CCTV was installed. In Berwick-upon-Tweed—which has a small-scale, four-camera system—burglary is down by 69 per cent., criminal damage by 41 per cent. and theft by 24 per cent. I use that example, but I should have used one for Montgomery instead, as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) is in the Chamber.

In Bedford city centre a CCTV scheme became operational in April 1994. It has led to over 200 arrests, to a reduction of 55 per cent. in overall recorded crime in the city centre compared with 1993 and to a reduction of 75 per cent. in recorded thefts of motor vehicles. I could go on, but I will not. We are seeing the same thing happening all around the country. Everywhere that CCTV has been installed, we get the same reports.

John Stevens, chief constable of Northumbria, said recently:

We are leading the world in CCTV technology and its use. In every case where cameras have been installed, crime has dropped and the number of arrests increased". We in the Government are doing our bit to help the process. Last year we initiated a CCTV challenge competition. It was a tremendous success and the 106 winners in the competition will share the £5 million Government funding available. If all the schemes go ahead on the scale planned, the competition is expected to lever in £13.8 million in contributions from other sources including the private sector. In other words, a total of £18.8 million will be invested in CCTV this financial year.

We have now announced another competition. This time we are not offering £5 million, but £15 million of taxpayers' money and we hope we can fund at least a further 300 schemes. A key condition of the funding is that there will have to be a code of practice on the proper use of video tapes. We shall also insist that any scheme currently up and running that wants top-up funding should have a proper code of practice as well. I, and I am sure many both inside and outside this Chamber, totally condemn the irresponsible use of any CCTV images for commercial gain.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Many CCTV systems are operated by private security firms. Why does not the Minister go further on the issue of how those firms operate and introduce some kind of registration scheme—for which there have been many suggestions—to ensure that those working for private security firms are not criminals and other people of public disrepute? A great many criminals work as security guards in this country at the moment.

Mr. Maclean

I dispute the hon. and learned Gentleman's last point about a great many criminals working as security guards. That is not the case. I have studied all the evidence and listened to what the police have said. The point is that a small number bring the majority into disrepute. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that we are currently carefully considering the Select Committee report and its recommendations. I cannot pronounce on that today.

Preventing crime is as important as tackling its consequences and the concept of partnership is central to our crime prevention strategy. That vital work cannot be left to the police alone; communities have a central role to play. Successful partnerships are essentially those that have developed local solutions to local problems—and they are successful. All over the country, business, community groups, local authorities and the public are working with the police to reduce and prevent crime in their areas. Local knowledge and expertise are being used to solve local crime problems.

To stimulate the partnership principle at a local level, we issued a guidance document in 1993 containing much practical advice on working in partnership and managing successful projects. Various such partnerships have been established across the country and a sample of the wide-ranging activities in which they have become involved includes reducing the fear of crime, reducing car crime, preventing youth involvement in crime, introducing anti-burglary measures, improving community safety and providing advice for licensees, and so on.

One of the main themes of local partnerships is that they should encourage local institutions and businesses to contribute directly to the fight against all types of crime in their areas and to improve the quality of life for the whole community.

I am often asked on my travels as crime prevention Minister why the Government decided not to implement the recommendations of the Morgan report on the local delivery of crime prevention through the partnership approach. The specific recommendation of that report, which is quoted at me most frequently, is that local authorities must be given a statutory duty to undertake crime prevention work. One of my predecessors took the view, in considering the report, that it would be wrong to burden local authorities with additional statutory responsibilities and I have to say that I think that he was absolutely right. As I go around the country and see all the excellent partnerships that are working voluntarily and how enthusiastically local government and others involved in crime prevention and community safety matters are working, I ask what is the point of hitting people with statutory regulation when the system works voluntarily? It is sensible to stay away from statutory provision.

Of course, the Government play their part and will continue to do so. The principles of partnership apply at a national as well as a local level and crime prevention generally is one of our highest priorities. In fact, Government Departments as a whole spent some £260 million in 1994–95 on crime prevention-related activity. In that year, Home Office expenditure on crime prevention rose by some 40 per cent. to £18.3 million.

Mr. Michael

The Minister said that he does not want to put burdens on local authorities. It is an expression of kindness that we do not usually expect from Ministers. However, the request for statutory authority for partnership between the police and local authorities came from the police and local authorities, so why was it refused?

Mr. Maclean

As I said, my predecessor took the view that that would be a burden and I take the view that it is wholly unnecessary because the system is working voluntarily. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it all ways. He will no doubt boast about the tremendous job local authorities are doing in crime prevention, but then say that they must have statutory powers to do it. Since we refused to provide statutory obligations, voluntary partnerships throughout the country have worked very successfully. That voluntary approach is to be commended. I dislike the idea of having to force people into statutory partnerships because it simply does not work. I should be very surprised if anyone could show me any areas in the country where the partnership approach is failing because of a lack of statutory duty to force people to work together.

The Government continue to provide core funding and support to Crime Concern, which works closely and productively with a wide range of partners—the police, central and local government, the private and voluntary sectors and many more—in its aim to prevent crime and create safer communities. Crime Concern has been very successful in establishing local partnerships and developing schemes that are having a real and beneficial impact on levels of offending. It has taken various initiatives. I am delighted with the work that it does, which is why the Government are generous in funding it.

There are many excellent examples of Crime Concern's work and we shall continue to work closely with it, not least through Nigel Whiskin, its chief executive, who will be a member of the new Crime Prevention Agency's board. I will say more about that in a moment. Crime Concern has a proven track record in developing effective crime prevention measures and I will be anxious to continue my support for its work.

In the autumn of last year we extended the concept of partnership through a £6 million "Partners Against Crime" television and radio advertising campaign to embrace individuals as well as institutions. There are three main elements to the campaign. First, we want to strengthen and encourage the existing neighbourhood watch schemes. Neighbourhood watch gets the people of a neighbourhood together to look out for one another and to protect their property from crime.

Secondly, there is the new concept of street watch. This takes the "eyes and ears" activities that already exist within neighbourhood watch out on to the streets. It means being sharp and observant when out and about, for example when walking the dog or taking the kids to school. That helps to block opportunities for the criminal.

The third main element is neighbourhood special constables. That is a sub-division of the special constabulary. They are fully trained specials, but working in their local areas. That brings visible foot patrols to their neighbourhoods. As a regular feature of the local scene, they help to deter criminals.

Initial evaluation of our campaign, which has now been running for just over a year, has shown high levels of approval for the various elements. I view the campaign as a big success. There will be a second phase to the campaign which will be launched at the beginning of 1996 and I am confident that it will stimulate new interest in the campaign and show what people can do to fight crime in their areas in conjunction with the police.

We have recently set up a new Crime Prevention Agency, whose work will be overseen by an agency board. The board will bring together key bodies in crime prevention—the Home Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers, Crime Concern, local and police authorities, the business community and others. The board will be a smaller, leaner body than its predecessor, the National Board for Crime Prevention, and will provide a sharper, more focused approach to the development of crime prevention strategy. The board will be closely concerned with promulgating best practice—what really works in crime prevention—and promoting the effective delivery of crime prevention on the ground, where it really matters.

The new agency will build on the valuable work of the working groups of the former national board, especially on vehicle and retail crime, and the chairmen of those groups will sit on the main board. The board will have an enhanced role by acting as the management board for the Home Office crime prevention unit and the crime prevention centre, whose work will be at the heart of the new agency.

The board will advise on the broad range of crime prevention issues. It will be for the board to determine the details of its work programme, but one area which I have asked it to consider is the opportunities for the increased use of technology in crime prevention. I fully support the view expressed by Sir Paul Condon, in his recent Police Foundation lecture, that there is scope for significant reductions in volume crime if we can involve manufacturers and retailers as active and innovative partners in the fight against crime. We want Britain to be world leaders in taking forward that approach.

Inevitably, when dealing with issues of prevention it is natural to consider why people offend in the first place. One can argue for ever about the causes of crime, but what I think is beyond question is that children, at home and at school, must be taught the difference between right and wrong. Research studies consistently show that family influences are central to explaining why some young people start to offend. Also, young people who persistently truant from school are bound to be more likely to be involved in offending, as are those who commonly associate with other offenders. We know, too, that at any one time a small proportion of offenders are responsible for a disproportionate amount of criminal activity.

Of course, the Government's influence on the creation of social attitudes is limited, but we are responsible for the framework of incentives and disincentives. We need to do all that we can to make sure that that framework encourages responsible behaviour and discourages irresponsible behaviour.

Despite our best efforts, many children get into trouble with the law, starting what could be a lengthy criminal career. There is thus clearly a need for partnerships between parents, schools, local education authorities, the police and local communities to do all they can to reduce the opportunities for offending, and to look at how we can rescue those, such as truants, from going astray.

If we can help turn away significant numbers of youngsters from a life of crime we will have achieved a great deal. For that reason, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary announced the establishment of a new ministerial group on juveniles with the remit of looking across Government at what we can do to identify children at risk of developing into offenders.

The group, which is in the process of being established, will be charged with examining departmental policies and programmes so that we can maximise the benefits, identify any gaps and encourage good practice. We are particularly keen for the voluntary sector to play its full part in partnership with Government agencies. In some parts of the country this is already happening, and we want to see it spread.

I remind the House that our new drugs strategy for the period 1995–98 was set out in the White Paper "Tackling Drugs Together", which was published last May. The new strategy, while fully maintaining the emphasis on law enforcement and reducing supply, recognises the need for stronger action on reducing the demand for illegal drugs. We all see, sadly far too often, the misery and suffering caused by illegal drug misuse. The focus of the Government's new strategy is on three main areas: crime, young people and public health. Every opportunity must be taken by those with care of children and young people to discourage the use of illegal drugs.

I want to say a brief word on our new proposals on prosecution and defence disclosure, which are undoubtedly very important. This is one of the most pressing and difficult problems affecting our criminal justice system. The current arrangements protect the innocent, but they also make it far too difficult to convict the genuinely guilty. Put simply, too much is required of the prosecution and not enough of the defence. The Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill will redress the balance.

I was much heartened by the welcome that the disclosure proposals received from the police. The sentiments of the Police Superintendents Association provide a useful summary. The supers said:

The Bill is a real step forward in the fight against professional crime and is another weight in the rebalancing of the criminal justice system which for too long has protected those who abuse the present arrangements". In perhaps more glamorous language, the chairman of the Police Federation made the point forcefully when, on the day that the Bill was published, he said:

This is a black day for the Lawyers' Angling Society. This Bill should end the farce of the gigantic fishing expedition which has become a notorious tactic amounting, in plain English, to blatant attempts to obstruct and delay justice". That Bill has started its progress in the other place and I look forward to it proceeding safely there and to us dealing with it in the Commons in the not too distant future.

As the House will know, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has recently announced radical new proposals on sentencing. We intend to publish a White Paper early next year to provide a basis for full public consultation and then to introduce a crime Bill.

The key elements of our sentencing proposals are as follows. First, the sentence imposed by the court should be served in full. Model prisoners would be able to earn a small discount by good behaviour, but automatic early release would be abolished.

Secondly, anyone convicted for the second time of a serious violent or sexual offence would receive an automatic life sentence. At present, even dangerous offenders must be released at the end of the sentence imposed by the court. Under the new proposals, they would be kept in custody until they no longer presented a risk to the public.

Thirdly, persistent burglars and drug dealers should know that they face stiff minimum prison sentences if they continue offending. Accordingly, we propose that the courts should be required to impose a minimum sentence on offenders convicted of burglary or trafficking in hard drugs, if they have already been convicted of such offences on two or more previous occasions. I reckon that the public rightly expect protection from serious, dangerous and persistent offenders. The Government believe that these proposals would provide that protection and send a powerful message to the criminal.

The aim is to improve public confidence in the criminal justice system and ensure the adequate punishment of the guilty and protection of the innocent. We want a system that allows for clearer sentences that enable those who are contemplating further crime to know just what to expect if they are caught and convicted and stop those who present a real risk to the public having to be released back into the community.

On the subject of sentencing, I should add that there has been some criticism of the view of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and myself that prison works. That criticism, I believe, has been grossly unfair and ignores the facts.

Of course prison works. It works, first of all, by punishing offenders and depriving them of their liberty. That is why we have provided the courts with power to impose custody where the offence is so serious that no other sentence is justified. It works in a second important regard by removing offenders from circulation and therefore preventing them from committing further offences while they are inside.

Mrs. Peacock

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people feel that prison is much too comfortable and should not be as luxurious as it is? Many people, especially pensioners, do not want their taxes to go to provide that comfort. Is not it interesting that the bed in the cell of the young man sentenced to prison in Singapore consists of one blanket? Could we not look at having severe conditions in our prisons?

Mr. Alex Carlile

It is a lot warmer in Singapore.

Mr. Maclean

Yes, we must be kinder than that; perhaps two blankets would be more appropriate this week, although we do not know the thickness of the blanket.

My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) is in accord with public sentiment and with my sentiment. That is why my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has said that he wants prisons to be decent but austere. He is right. He and my hon. Friends in the Home Office with responsibility for prisons are looking carefully at Sir John Learmont's report and considering his suggestion that any privileges and rights in prisons should be earned by prisoners and not granted automatically on day one. My hon. Friend is right to raise that point.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

What steps has my right hon. Friend taken to ensure that prison regimes are relevant and rigorous and that prisoners do not sit in cells watching television but do useful work? Are steps in hand to make sure that the work they do is sufficiently productive for them to be able to earn their keep, contribute to their costs and provide resources for victim support and for their families?

Mr. Maclean

This could be the subject of another debate, which we may want to have at some time. My hon. Friend touches on many things that are happening in prisons. Yes, regimes are being made as relevant as possible. There are treatment and therapy courses for drug users, alcoholics and sexual abusers. There are pilot studies that are trying to get better work regimes so that prisoners do better things than make mail bags and ministerial boxes—which fall apart far too easily—at great cost.

Prisoners need proper skills that they can use in the real world when they come out. I am one of those who believe that if they do a proper day's work in prison rather than sit in their cells, it makes sense to pay them a proper wage and deduct money to send to wives and families and save money for a nest egg. I want prisoners to pay the same penalty as the rest of us face: it is called income tax. There is no point in cushioning them from that while their wives and families are dependent on the state. If they were doing a proper day's work in prison and getting better pay rather than pocket money, such deductions could be made.

Mr. Carlile

Is the Minister announcing perhaps the most radical and important change that there has been in the prison system in the past 100 years? If he is, it will be very welcome. Are we being told that it is now Government policy that all prisoners should be given proper jobs to do, from which they would learn something; that they will be paid a wage from which they can pay their own keep; and that they will pay income tax? That is the sort of radical change in the prison system for which Judge Tumim appears to have been campaigning for a long time. If true, when will the Government introduce those dramatic new measures?

Mr. Maclean

I said that we were working on pilot studies. The hon. and learned Gentleman should he aware that many of our prisons, despite the new, modern prisons we are building and opening, and which Lord Whitelaw instituted in 1979–80 when he was Home Secretary, are old-fashioned buildings. They do not have adequate workshops and they were not built beside super-modern car plants where prisoners could work.

Mr. Carlile

Half the workshops have been closed. This is absolute piffle.

Mr. Maclean

The hon. and learned Gentleman should stop hollering from a sedentary position. Radical improvement regimes are being introduced in our prisons and attempts are being made to ensure that prisoners do not sit idly in cells all day. I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) that prisoners do not have televisions in their cells—my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary does not permit that, and rightly so.

I shall conclude so that others may speak. Prison works because the threat of prison is a deterrent. Many people are discouraged from crime because of the threat of imprisonment. The likelihood of arrest and the threat of imprisonment deter many people from crime. Some of the pre-sentence reports provided by the probation service show that what some scoundrels fear more than anything else is imprisonment.

As I said earlier, I believe that victims should he foremost in our minds when tackling crime. Despite huge pressures on all departmental budgets, we were able to increase our funding of the national charity Victim Support by .20 per cent. last year to over £10 million. It has been increased by a further 8 per cent. this year to nearly £11 million. That enables Victim Support's 365 local schemes and branches, and their 12,000 volunteer visitors, to offer help to over 1 million victims of crime a year. There will be witness support schemes in all 75 Crown court centres by the end of this year, helping victims through the stress of appearing in court. And better facilities are being provided at all courts, including information facilities, support services and separate prosecution/defence waiting facilities wherever possible.

This Government pioneered the victims charter in 1990. Most of the 50-plus standards it sets have been, or are well on the way to being, met. I can tell the House that we are now developing a new victims charter. This will tell victims more clearly the minimum standards of service they should expect from the criminal justice agencies. It will explain which agency is responsible for providing the service, and how victims can complain if they do not get the level of service promised. We hope to publish the new charter in the new year.

We are keeping victims better informed about what is happening in their case. And last year we set up a victims helpline so that any victim concerned about an inmate's possible release can tell the prison authorities.

Victims' views are being taken into account more consistently. For example, the police now specifically seek victims' views on bail and make those known to the prosecution. Pre-sentence reports on offenders now explain the effect of the crime on the victim. And new guidance has been issued to the probation service about contact with victims when prisoners' release plans are considered.

As I mentioned earlier, we published a special information pack on 6 November to help families of homicide victims. The pack contains practical information, including details of sources of support and advice, to help such families cope with their unique tragedy.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Will the victims charter also include fresh guidelines to the Crown Prosecution Service? In far too many cases, victims—including police officers who are victims of crime while protecting citizens—are extremely concerned about how many times the Crown Prosecution Service decides not to pursue certain cases. That is the greatest insult to victims who feel that justice has not been done and has not been seen to be done.

Mr. Maclean

Perhaps my hon. Friend does not realise that a new code of practice for Crown prosecutors was promulgated recently and has been issued. I agree that perhaps not many people know that there is a new code of practice which increases the possibility that more cases will be prosecuted. However, at times the CPS is right to conclude that a charge is not valid or relevant; that there is no case to answer; or that the charge should be changed from one offence to another. That is when it is vital to try to keep the victims informed, so that they know exactly what is going on.

As my hon. Friend will have seen in the press, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is currently considering various procedures to bring the CPS and the police closer together and to improve their understanding of how the other operates, and to ensure that victims and the public are kept better informed. We look forward to the result of my right hon. and learned Friend's deliberations, which will make a big improvement to the system.

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 created a new offence of witness intimidation. It also abolished committal proceedings, and that means that victims no longer have to give evidence twice over.

I believe the measures that I have announced today will go a long way to help victims pursue legitimate means of redress, and to relieve some of the unnecessary suffering and anguish they are put through by those criminals who have no respect for the law or for the feelings of their fellow citizens.

Our priority is to ensure that our response to crime at every level is as effective as possible. But tackling crime is not just a matter for the Home Office, the Government, the police or the courts, but something for all of us—including local people, local authorities and local business. We are forging partnerships to turn the tables on the criminal, and we are seeing the results of what can be achieved.

This morning, I have set out at length to the House all the action that we are taking. I make no apologies for that because it is important that the House knows that we are not just concerned with the crime figures, or a bit of policing here and victims there. There is a wide, comprehensive strategy tackling all aspects of crime, and creating a safer Britain. We are giving the police the money to buy the tools to do the job; we are giving the courts the powers they need to punish the guilty; and we are giving local people the opportunity to work in partnership with the police. The key is to divert people away from crime, convict the guilty and prevent as much misery to innocent, law-abiding citizens as we can. We will not flag or fail in keeping up our pressure to achieve those aims.

10.38 am
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

I shall start by underlining the fact that we are dealing with the fear of crime, and the daily reality of crime for our constituents. The Minister acknowledged as much at the beginning of his speech, but he went on to show massive complacency about a small drop in recorded crime. He said that the Government continued to put the criminal in the dock, but the proportion of offenders going into the dock has decreased under the Government. Crime used to be something that happened to someone else; now it affects us all. People have less and less faith in the ability of the criminal justice system to cope.

In the past 15 years—when recorded crime has doubled—the number of people convicted or cautioned has fallen by 7 per cent. Far more offences are committed in Tory Britain, and more people are getting away with those offences. Those are the facts, despite the rhetoric of punishment that the Minister has used today. He suggested clarity in sentencing with some tough talk about sentences. We wait to see the reality, because the implication is that the courts have been failing us. However, the confusion caused by the Government is what has undermined confidence in the criminal justice system. The public expect protection, but they are not receiving it from the Government. The greatest deterrent is being caught, and as I have just said, the figures show that that deterrent has been reduced during the years of Conservative Home Secretaries.

The public expect a prison system that works, but what will the Government do? How long will it be before they propose measures that will make prison more effective, instead of cutting useful occupation in prison? Education is being cut in prisons throughout the country.

The Minister tells us that he has left the "nothing can be done" tendency. That is a change for the Government. He should read the press statements of his predecessors and the past few Home Secretaries because, year after year, they have said that crime is something that we simply have to expect.

The Minister exposed his real attitude when he described the proposal that the Crown Prosecution Service should be made to listen to victims as "plain daft". It is not plain daft. It is an obligation that should be placed on the Crown Prosecution Service. Extremely belatedly, the Government, who might have accepted amendments to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, have suddenly found that there is a need to put pressure on the Crown Prosecution Service to listen to victims.

Mr. Maclean

The hon. Gentleman should not inadvertently mislead the House by misquoting my remarks. I did not say that it was plain daft for the CPS to listen to victims—that is what it should always do, and that is what happens. What I described as plain daft was the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the victim should be dragged to court to make a victim impact statement, in which circumstances the victim would be eligible for cross-examination by the defence. I am sure that that would have a great effect on the victim.

Mr. Michael

The Minister has misdirected himself. The suggestion about victim impact statements came from the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock), not from me. During scrutiny of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill I suggested that the Crown Prosecution Service should be obliged to pay attention to the impact on the victim when deciding whether to downgrade or drop charges. That proposition is not plain daft; it is plain common sense. The Minister should listen when constructive suggestions are made. His hon. Friend has left the Chamber, but I am sure that she will be very interested to hear that he described her proposal as plain daft. Our proposal was not plain daft; it was plain common sense.

I, too, want to congratulate the police, not least on keeping going, even under the present Government. I want to praise the partnerships between police and local authorities and local people, but they are little to the credit of the Home Secretary. The Minister was in Committee on the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill and on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill when he turned down the proposition, supported by local authorities and the police, that such partnership should be set in statute. They wanted Government support for such local partnership, on which they have worked so hard.

Lady Olga Maitland

If the hon. Gentleman is as supportive of the police as he says he is, will he explain why, throughout Committee proceedings on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, he and his colleagues consistently voted against every single measure to be tough on crime? I can suggest only that he is soft on crime.

Mr. Michael

The hon. Lady should not take her briefings from Tory central office. I am sure that she would not want to mislead the House. and the suggestion that the Labour party voted against tough measures is untrue. It is a lie. I hope that the hon. Lady will have the strength of character to withdraw that suggestion, because it is totally untrue.

I shall develop that argument later, because there is a great deal to be said about Labour's record of being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, and those arguments need to be placed on the record during the debate.

Let me respond to some of the Minister's comments. He spoke about targeting crime. That policy complements local partnerships, which we have urged for years. It has nothing to do with the Home Secretary's performance indicators, which are introducing strain and confusion for police forces locally. It is ironic that the Minister, who a few moments ago rejected the idea of placing a statutory duty on the police and local authorities, introduced a statutory responsibility for them to follow the Home Secretary's nationally decided performance indicators. The Minister appears to be criticising not only Conservative Back Benchers but the Home Secretary in his responses to the debate.

The Minister today said one thing that shows a welcome dawning of light. He said that most young people do not commit crime; yet the Government have continually denigrated young people and described them as a problem rather than the strength and opportunity of our future.

The Minister's speech might have impressed someone who had been living in exile for 16 years without access to newspapers or radio and television, but it will not have impressed the people of England and Wales. He even had the temerity to refer to the victims helpline. Do hon. Members remember that one? It followed the cones hotline. Last year, over Christmas, it closed down, despite the fact that Christmas is the time of special stress and danger in respect of domestic violence.

The Minister says that he wants the Crown Prosecution Service and the police to come closer to one another. We have tried to persuade him to follow that policy for the past few years, but he has refused to do so.

I want to draw the attention of the House to the curious history of the current debate. The topic is "The Government's policy against crime". Yesterday, I was telephoned by a journalist who wanted to know more about the topic. In his quest for knowledge, he had telephoned the Home Office, where an official told him:

No, it wouldn't be a Government debate—you'd better talk to the Opposition. Those people with short memories may have forgotten what the debate was about when first announced. The topic was supposed to be "The success of the Government's policies to combat crime". I am told that such a topic, if tabled by the Opposition, would have been ruled out of order as obviously being ironic. Somewhere along the line, it changed to "The Government's policy against crime." I am not surprised that the Minister wants to speak about the future, not the past. I bet the Government had a problem getting the title past the House authorities. Which policy would that be. Minister? Walking with a purpose, perhaps? I am surprised that the Minister reminded the House of the Home Secretary's document "Partners Against Crime", because not only was that a theft of the title of a Labour party document published earlier, but it was not about partnership. It offered three aspects of volunteering, not of partnership.

We support the work of neighbourhood watch and of special constables, but those are not aspects of partnership; they are aspects of people volunteering to help with crime in their community. Welcome though that is, it shows little understanding of partnership to give that title to the document.

Today's debate is a remarkable own goal, as the Conservative party tries desperately to steal Labour's clothes and appear interested in a subject of public concern on which the Government's record does not stand scrutiny.

Let us consider the facts. Recorded crime is more than 100 per cent. higher than in 1979; robbery in England and Wales is 403 per cent. higher than in 1979; home burglary is 159 per cent. higher than in 1979; theft from motor vehicles is 194 per cent. higher than in 1979; criminal damage is 184 per cent. higher than in 1979.

No wonder the Government changed the title and deleted their claim to success in the fight against crime. That is only recorded crime. The "British Crime Survey" shows that actual crime increased two and a half times as fast as recorded crime between 1991 and 1993—the most recent figures available. Only one crime in 50 ends up with a punishment by a court. Only one crime in 750 ends up with a custodial sentence.

A complacent Home Secretary, whose mantra is "Prison works", is indeed wise to avoid debating the success of Conservative policies on crime. What grounds for complacency are there in a country where the risk of being burgled is one in 12, the risk of a vehicle being broken into is one in six and the risk of a person being assaulted is one in 46?

The Automobile Association recently surveyed its members about their experience of crime. One in 14 of drivers in the survey had experienced a car being stolen. Six out of 10 victims of thefts from vehicles did not claim on insurance and presumably did not report the crime. Many of those surveyed feel that the police are unwilling or unable to reduce car crime activity.

Confidence in the criminal justice system is seriously in question. A survey of members of the Police Federation of England and Wales showed that 87 per cent. of the 73,000 officers who replied were not at all satisfied or not very satisfied with the criminal justice system. Only 9 per cent. gave the lukewarm response that they were "fairly satisfied".

The Police Federation has expressed anxiety that proper debate on law and order should not become a purely party political matter. It states:

For many years a consensus existed between the parties on this topic. The police and the public would welcome its return. We would also welcome its return because, despite the activities of the present Home Secretary and his immediate predecessor, the present Chancellor—the two most partisan Home Secretaries in history—we have continued to try to make constructive suggestions about how to tackle crime. In that context, I welcome the Home Secretary's development of a strategy for police intelligence and a comprehensive database. That proposal follows years of frustration, when the Home Office and its Ministers refused to accept policies and strategies urged on them by chief constables.

I pay tribute to the work of individual chief constables and police forces. Dyfed-Powys police force, one of the smallest in this country—which the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) will know as well as I do—has said that it wants to tackle crimes when they start to happen and use new technology to nip things in the bud. That is an example that the Home Secretary should examine carefully.

I welcome the Minister of State's statement today that a national tier of police will follow the pattern of regional forces, with local forces in the driving seat. I welcome the fact that the intelligence services involved in police work will be accountable to the police—that is an extremely important principle—but will the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope), spell out how the accountability will work in practice? In his opening speech the Minister of State outlined the right principles, but in such matters the devil is in the detail, so when he replies to the debate will the Under-Secretary tell us how the scheme will work in practice?

The Minister of State has clearly discovered two other Labour themes: the need to work with families and encourage parental responsibility and the need to work with young people across Government Departments. I participated in a project in which I worked with children and their families in the mid and late 1970s. The report has been on the shelf ready for the Conservative Government for the past 15 years and I recommend that the Minister take it off the shelf and look at it.

I welcome the Minister of State's conversion, but on those two topics, as on others, we shall judge him by his actions—just as we judge the Conservative Government on their record on law and order policy after 15 years of being responsible for it. Their policy has left many people in Tory Britain afraid to leave their homes at night and afraid when they are inside their homes. Women and the elderly feel particularly vulnerable and parents are frightened to let their children out alone. All too many people are terrorised by nuisance neighbours and too intimidated to report offences to the police. In his opening speech the Minister of State did not make one suggestion to tackle those problems.

The court processes are expensive, inefficient and outdated. The cost of criminal legal aid has rocketed. The proportion of cases discontinued by the Crown Prosecution Service has almost doubled. I am delighted that the Home Secretary has finally woken up to that fact and that his Cabinet colleagues have recognised the need for new guidance. We have been consistently telling him about those problems for many years. Cases are also taking longer to come to court.

People are desperately concerned about not only crime but disorder. Fear in the streets and in public places inhibits and restricts people's lives and undermines their sense of security and their ability to take an active role in the community. Those points have been stressed, above all, by my hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, who has made positive proposals on how to tackle those problems. But instead, the Conservatives have chosen to tackle the victims.

This week, the Home Secretary took a further step towards cutting £700 million from the cash available to compensate the victims of violent crime. Each time that unsavoury and sleazy development is mentioned, the Minister trumpets platitudes about how good the scheme remains, but those are weasel words. The simple truth is that the Conservative Government are cutting the cash available to victims of violent crime by £700 million. No Conservative Member of Parliament will ever again have the slightest credibility when pretending to be interested in the victims of crime.

The same is true of the victim support scheme. Earlier today, the Minister of State had the cheek to claim credit for the increase in finance for the victim and witness support schemes, but he planned to cut the cash available for those schemes until the Labour party embarrassed him into maintaining the figures for development. In 1996 the Minister will give Victim Support just enough money to maintain the schemes developed by the end of this year. The growth was encouraged by the Home Office, but it will grind to a halt. The figure involved is less than £11 million which, as the Minister of State acknowledged in his speech, is a minimal proportion of the Home Office budget.

The families of murder victims are being doubly victimised. Earlier this week I offered to help the Minister bridge the gap for the families of murder victims who had been told that they would receive a bereavement award under the compensation scheme introduced by the Home Secretary last year. Those families are angry that their personal tragedies have been caught up in the Home Secretary's legal battles. They feel that he has added greatly to the grief that they have suffered. We asked him to give compassionate consideration to the families' claims to compensation and to support the plea from the victim support scheme. We offered him time and said that a Labour Back Bencher would introduce legislation to tackle that scandal in private Members' time if the Government would also make time available and provide their support to speed the legislation through the House. The Minister rejected that opportunity earlier this week.

The Conservatives have only two tactics on law and order. First, they search for initiatives that will do nothing to solve the problems of crime but, they hope, will wrong-foot the Labour party. That tactic has come apart in the hands of the present Home Secretary, who should give up because he will not wrong-foot a Labour leader who is serious about being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime and who leads a party which, from the shadow Home Secretary to ordinary members at grassroots level, supports him totally in his fight to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.

Mr. Maclean

Which tough measures d'd the Labour party leader vote for in the 1980s and whicn Bills on law and order did he vote against? Will the hon. Gentleman give us the answer so that we can make a proper judgment?

Mr. Michael

I shall come to that in a moment, but I shall first deal with the Government's tactics.

The Government's second tactic is even more unprincipled; it is to lie. I know that Ministers would not wish to mislead the House and that the information given to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) must be a tactic of Conservative central office rather than a Member of Parliament, but the Home Secretary has been heard to claim that Labour has voted against measures to fight crime and has failed to introduce positive proposals for action against crime. I am sure that no Minister would make such claims in the House because they are two big Tory lies. On the rare occasions when the Home Secretary makes a sensible, coherent proposal, the Labour party supports him, as I have already made clear today. The Home Secretary's record on voting against proposals is one on which any court in the land would convict without hesitation.

The Morgan report on crime prevention is a Home Office report; we proposed that it should be implemented, but the Home Secretary refused. In our document, "Partners Against Crime", we suggested a detailed strategy and a statutory framework for crime prevention, with local authorities working closely with the police and other agencies. The Conservatives paid lip service to it, but voted it down. We proposed early intervention when young people first start to offend, but the Tories voted it down. The Labour party proposed action to tackle those who offend on bail, with bail support and enforcement in every part of the country, but the Conservatives voted it down.

The Labour Front Bench ensured the passage of the Bail (Amendment) Act 1993, allowing the prosecution right of appeal against the granting of bail—Ministers would have allowed that measure to fall. The Labour party demanded additional support to allow the expansion of the victim support and, particularly, the witness support scheme. When Ministers refused to give the police better protection, it was the Labour party that co-operated with the Police Federation for a cross-party presentation of side-handled batons and other alternatives. The Labour party called for rigorous trials but, after long prevarication, the present Home Secretary simply allowed them to be used.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Timothy Kirkhope)

Why, then, did the Labour party vote against the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the Public Order Act 1986, the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Criminal Justice Act 1991, and why has it always opposed renewal of the prevention of terrorism Acts?

Mr. Michael

That was a well-rehearsed intervention. It was well scripted, but the Minister knows the answers. The present Leader of the Opposition and shadow Home Secretary offered a cross-party agreement to deal with the problems highlighted in the prevention of terrorism Acts. It was turned down by the Home Secretary for partisan reasons. The Minister can read Hansard for himself to see why we voted against those measures. I know that Ministers do not want to listen to the truth being put on record in the House.

The so-called Tory commitment to effective crime prevention is illustrated by the measures that the Tories voted down during the passage of the Criminal Justice Bill in 1993. They include cutting offending while on bail through bail enforcement and support schemes, the expansion of witness support and victim support schemes, making the Crown Prosecution Service consult victims before dropping or reducing charges and putting assets seized from drug users to immediate use in the fight against drug abuse. They opposed proposals for faster action when youngsters first get into trouble by cautioning them, and, after the first caution, for new court orders to make courts more effective in stopping youngsters before they get deeply involved in law breaking and in speeding up the criminal justice system to get quicker court sentences for persistent young offenders.

The Labour party has made so many constructive proposals to tackle crime, yet time and again the Conservatives have voted against them. They voted against the establishment of an independent body to investigate miscarriages of justice. After years of prevarication, it was eventually included in the Criminal Appeal Act 1995—but in a half-hearted way by a Government who did not really believe in it. They voted against creating an offence of racial harassment and stiffer penalties for racially motivated crime. They voted against abolishing the year and a day rule so that we have to waste private Members' time this year to implement a measure that the Home Secretary could have accepted in Committee or on the Floor of the House.

We proposed tighter controls on dangerous weapons and the Government introduced a Bill that did not mention drugs, drug-related crime, weapons or violence. I am not surprised that Ministers wish to gossip among themselves. They do not like the truth of their appalling record of failure in the fight against crime—their failure to accept positive proposals from the Labour party, their failure to think through their own proposals and their failure to listen to Labour Front Benchers when we discussed the issues.

The Government failed to accept the ideas of statutory limits on prison overcrowding. They failed to establish an elected police authority for London, they failed to accept our proposal for a national drug prevention strategy, yet now they have informally proposed precisely the same strategy.

Let us consider another aspect of Conservative failure. The centrepiece of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was the creation of privatised secure training centres. Where are they? That was a smokescreen for lack of Government action in expanding the existing system of secure accommodation. In 1991, Labour extracted a promise of 65 extra secure places, but not one has been provided.

Let me spell that out because, with others and long before I entered the House, I campaigned for secure places to be made available to end the scandal of youngsters aged 15 and 16 being remanded either in inappropriate adult prison accommodation or in unsuitable, insecure local authority homes because there was nowhere else for them to go. In February 1991 the then Home Secretary promised the House that he would end that scandal and we welcomed and supported an amendment to the Criminal Justice Act 1991. However, the Government have reneged on that promise. Not only has it not been fulfilled, but the number of secure places has fallen by 18 since 1991. The present Home Secretary could not be tough on a paper bag in a thunderstorm.

The Minister spoke about dealing with crime, but he made no mention of the scandal of those who are harassed and intimidated by violent and abusive neighbours. My hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary is the first senior politician to make genuine, straightforward proposals to tackle that scourge on modern society. If he had the sense of the average Llanelli rugby player, the Home Secretary would have picked up the ball, accepted the constructive suggestion from the Opposition and gained credit for himself by taking action on it.

The police have backed Labour's proposals for tough action on criminal neighbours contained in "A Quiet Life". Local authorities are in favour of it. Members of Parliament and councillors, who have experience of the frustration, anger and misery created by violent neighbours, have welcomed the proposals, yet the Home Secretary has refused to tackle a problem that affects families up and down the country.

Let me quote the president of the Police Superintendents Association, Mr. Brian Mackenzie, whom the Minister quoted in his remarks. In the presence of the Home Secretary he said:

Law and order should not be a party political issue. In an ideal world there would be consensus on how these issues should be tackled, so it is encouraging to see Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition addressing them. We welcome the proposals by…the Shadow Home Secretary, to deal with criminal and intimidating neighbours by a new 'community safety order', with new powers of eviction. This seems an eminently sensible suggestion and we hope you will feel able to work with the Opposition in developing it". Has the Home Secretary worked with us in developing it? No, he has simply rejected it and chosen to ignore the nature of the problem.

The 1995 Queen's Speech was a great disappointment for those of us looking for measures to combat crime. The promise of 5,000 police officers over three years has been greeted with some scepticism, to put it politely. Why should we trust such a promise from the Prime Minister when he broke his promise to the electorate in the 1992 general election? He promised an additional 1,000 police officers, yet their number went down and there is still a shortfall of some 1,300. When the Home Secretary has fulfilled the Conservative 1992 election promise, we might take more seriously the Prime Minister's inflated promise in 1995.

The position is crystal clear. I do not know whether the Chancellor, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have shared the truth with the Minister of State, but I shall let him into the secret: there is no new money.

In the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994, the Home Secretary was absolutely adamant that he wanted to give up control over police numbers. Hansard is full of speeches in which he declaimed his new-found belief in the right of chief constables to take their own decisions over the use of resources. He said that it was not for the Home Secretary or the Government to tell chief constables how many police officers to employ and that his job was to hand over the cash and let them get on with it.

It was an incredible performance for those who had followed the right hon. and learned Gentleman's career. Here was the arch-nationaliser, the architect of the poll tax, the Minister who laid waste to local accountability in one public enterprise after another, presenting himself as the defender of local decision making. But we knew what he was doing. He was abrogating responsibility before cutting the cash in order to blame others for his own decision. Then the Prime Minister—another rudderless ship blown here and there by events—announced that an extra 5,000 police officers would be provided by his desperate Government.

We can imagine the panic at the Home Office, where they would say, "But Minister we do not have the money." It is no use applying to the Chancellor as there is no sympathy there. What was to be done? The answer was to cut the cake differently and hope that nobody would notice—to steal from the capital allocations the cash need for revenue allocations and hope that nobody would notice. I am sorry, but anyone with half a brain has noticed. I am sorry for the Minister and others who have to plough on with the farce.

The simple fact is that the Government are willing to steal from tomorrow to survive today. To put it another way, for those who understood Mrs. Thatcher's rudimentary approach to economics, it is as if a family were to steal from their mortgage on their home and melt down the lead on the roof to pay for the food on today's breakfast table. That is the fast track to ruin. That is why the Minister would not answer the straight question: by how much has the capital allocation for police forces been changed for next year? I am not surprised, because it has been cut. Sooner or later there will be a day of reckoning for that then from tomorrow. The Home Secretary hopes that he will have moved up the greasy pole or, more likely, into opposition, by the time that day of reckoning arrives.

Mr. Maclean

I will give the hon. Gentleman some simple arithmetic. Uniformed police pay is going up 3 per cent.; civilian police pay is going up 2.5 per cent. The total amount of money being made available to the police next year will be 4 per cent. That is new money.

Mr. Michael

The Minister still does not answer the question on capital spending. Nor does he deal with the reduction in real figures in Home Office allocations shown in the Home Secretary's own hand-out on the day of the Budget. It is interesting that some Departments produced a complete breakdown of how that money was to be spent: not the Home Secretary, not the Home Office.

The Labour party has been in the forefront of promoting closed circuit television as an instrument in the fight against crime. Partnerships between Labour local authorities, the police and local business communities have shown the way forward. I am glad that the Home Secretary has joined us in promoting such schemes. I have helped to promote some of them myself. I must sound a note of caution. CCTV schemes work only if they are well designed, utilise the right equipment installed in the right locations and if monitoring is well planned and each partner feels that he has some ownership of the scheme.

I warn the Minister that the public's continued support is essential. The Government's commitment to CCTV is weakened by their failure to support Labour proposals for statutory regulation to monitor its use. In that, I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery in his earlier intervention. If CCTV schemes are to be effective, the public must be confident that they are used honestly and effectively. Last week, I offered the Minister the chance of a Bill to pass through the House quickly, to outlaw the sale of video tapes from surveillance operations of any sort undertaken by the police, local authorities, private companies or individuals—unless the Home Secretary decided that their publication was in the public interest. After the sale of video tapes offering cheap gratification—whether through scenes of violence, sexual passion in a lift or thrilling car chases—who doubts that control is needed? Nobody outside the Home Office. I repeat our offer, for the day that the Minister catches up with the rest of us on that particular issue.

The need for legislation to regulate the private security industry falls into the same category. The Minister has promised to allow access by employers to police records, so that staff can be vetted. What about the employers themselves? I am not talking about decent firms in the private security industry, because they share our concerns; they want statutory regulation as much as we do. Police officers at every level have told me of their concerns. Crooks with records of violent crime, having partners whose record of fraud is as long as your arm, are running private security companies. Not only does the Home Secretary refuse to take a grip on that scandal but he wants to give those crooks ready access to police computer records, which is insane. Is that what the Conservative party means by a policy against crime?

Conservative dogma has overruled public safety. Home Office ideas about regulating the private security industry and the recommendations of the Opposition and of the Select Committee have been overruled by the Department of Trade and Industry on the ground that regulation would constitute a restraint on trade. I have news for the Home Secretary. If regulation is needed to protect the British public against crooks and rip-off merchants, the British public would rather have regulation than Conservative dogma that protects people who live off violence, bullying, burglary and theft.

Most offenders remain in the community. This week, the House of Lords condemned the Home Secretary's bid to end all training requirements for probation officers. I am not surprised that the Minister went through his lengthy speech without mentioning that fact, but it is one of this week's scandals. The Government suffered a humiliating defeat in the other place. Former Home Secretaries, Labour and Conservative, joined to tell the Home Secretary that he was wrong. A former permanent secretary at the Home Office, a former senior police officer, the chairman of the Royal Commission on criminal justice and many other peers emphasised the need for high-quality training and for the Home Secretary to change his policy. Fifteen speeches were made against the abolition of probation service training requirements. Only the lonely, battered Minister spoke in favour of that crazy change.

The Minister, for failing to provide relevant professional qualifications and training for probation officers, has rightly been attacked by Labour and all the relevant professional bodies, which recognise the need for specialist training. Entrants to the probation service from the police or armed services are the first to recognise that they need specialist training, and they want a proper qualification in their new profession. Each year, the probation service deals with offenders who are more difficult, damaged and dangerous. Failing to ensure adequate training and qualifications for new entrants through a national scheme means that the Home Secretary is putting at risk the safety of the public and of new probation officers.

Today, the Minister had a chance to present new ideas and positive policies, but where are the real measures to combat crime? The Government have little to say. They are not implementing the proposals that we have made over the years or measures to tackle disorder on our streets, criminal neighbours, delay at every stage of the criminal justice process or the delays that bedevil our court system.

Where in the Minister's speech were the measures to tackle youth crime? We have made proposal after proposal to nip offending in the bud and to prevent young offenders from becoming repeat offenders. The Government have rejected them all. In recent years, the Government have cut the youth service, which a report produced by Coopers and Lybrand last year showed is cost-effective in preventing crime.

Where are the proposals to regulate the private security industry? Where are the measures to help victims of crime? We have heard a whimper of future proposals from the Minister today, but little of the Government's record on crime. It is not surprising that the Government withdrew their original proposal to debate their record on combating crime. That record is dire. The Home Secretary has lost sight of his duty to protect the public in a desperate attempt to protect his own job. His only strategic aim is wrong-footing the Labour party. The Government are practising for opposition as enthusiastically as the Labour party is preparing for government.

Labour is tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. The Tories are neither tough nor competent. They seek to blame others and to avoid responsibility for their failures. The success of others is claimed by a Home Secretary who had little hand in the strategies that truly belong to the police, local authorities and local communities, which have accepted Labour's strategies for a partnership to fight and defeat crime.

11.17 am
Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield)

The people of Welwyn Hatfield have the same needs and aspirations as people in the rest of the United Kingdom and throughout the world. People need to feel secure, which means that the primary duty of the Government is to provide security. The people of Welwyn Hatfield work hard to support their families. They want to feel safe and that they can walk the streets without being threatened. They want to feel confident about leaving their homes and cars.

The Government's role is to provide a framework of law and order so that law-abiding taxpayers feel safe. The Government are providing that safety. Unfortunately, crime has risen constantly since the second world war, in times both of boom and of bust. The reason is a succession of liberal, socialist-minded judges and magistrates who have lacked the nerve to impose sentences that fit the crime. They have failed the Government and the police. Most of all, they have failed the citizens of this country. They have succumbed to flashy terminology, complex theories and soft options. We have crossed our wires and lost our way. They criticise the victim for not taking enough precautions, and counsel and cosset the villains. Villains have been put on community sentences. They have even been sent on holidays. We have tried all of that and it is not surprising that it has failed.

The result is that my constituents feel far from secure. They are scared to walk the streets for fear of violence, and they are scared to leave their homes for fear of burglary. My constituents feel frustrated because, when crimes are committed, the criminals do not receive a suitable punishment. With such soft punishments, which are offered again and again, criminals have nothing to lose.

In these dark days of liberal fudge, however, there is a glimmer of hope. At last we have a Home Secretary who has begun to understand the concerns of my constituents. He knows that they are sick and tired of laws that pander to the villain and frustrate the victim. The Conservative party is the party of law and order. That means that victims must always come first. Criminals must be punished, and the police need our backing.

Mr. Alex Cathie

Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on just two points: first, that from 1991 until 1994 it was a great frustration to judges that they were not able to send a large number of people to prison because of the Government's Criminal Justice Act 1991; and, secondly, that the community sentence that he criticised so severely did not exist until it was introduced by the Government he supports?

Mr. Evans

I take the hon. and learned Gentleman's intervention in the spirit in which it was given, but surely he knows that judges are suffering from mad judge disease when they say that people who are burgled should be prosecuted and the villains should not. How can judges be credible when they say that, if people do not take precautions and allow people to burgle their houses, they are the ones who should be prosecuted?

The Conservative party is the only party that realises that criminals must be punished, and punished according to the crime. There is no point slapping the wrist of a rapist or ticking off a cold-blooded killer. The public want justice, and it is up to the Government to deliver it. Despite opposition from soppy socialists, we have put more criminals behind bars and kept them there for longer. Why have we done that? Because prison works. One more scumbag behind bars is one less scumbag rampaging the streets. The figures speak for themselves. Recorded crime has fallen by 5 per cent. in the 12 months to June 1995. There has been the largest fall in recorded crime over a two-year period in 40 years, and the lowest level of crime for four years.

The Home Secretary has announced that he intends to build on that success by ending early release. We need to send the right signals to the criminals, and that message is: "If you commit a crime, you will serve your sentence in full." As the Home Secretary said at the party conference:

It's time to get honesty back into sentencing. No more automatic early release. No more release regardless of behaviour. And no more half-time sentences for full-time crimes. Common sense at last, and not a moment too soon.

Mr. Michael

I am following the hon. Gentleman's analysis of crime trends with interest. Will he tell us how the proportion of offenders being brought before the courts, which has reduced under the Conservative Government whom he praises, has helped in the fight against crime?

Mr. Evans

I shall come to that point later in my speech, if the hon. Gentleman will wait.

We need to think about the people on the front line who are there to fight crime—the police. They need us to back them all the way. I believe that we have done a pretty good job so far and given them the support that they deserve. Since 1979, the number of police officers has been increased by 16,000. Spending on the police has risen by 87 per cent. in real terms to £6.6 billion, and a police constable's salary has risen by 39 per cent. over and above inflation. We should not stop there, and we have not. John Major has promised an extra 5,000—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the convention that we do not use names. I think that the hon. Gentleman means the Prime Minister.

Mr. Evans

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Prime Minister has promised an extra 5,000 policemen over the next three years. We want this message to get to the criminals: under the Conservatives, there will be more and more policemen on the streets. That might make criminals think twice before they go on the rampage.

We have the promise of a new Crime Prevention Agency and 10,000 more closed circuit television cameras. Both are commendable measures, but we should not rest there. We are at last rolling the ball in the right direction, so now is the time to give it some momentum. We know what the public want, so let us start delivering. I have some suggestions that I would put on the law and order agenda. Let us tackle pathetic parents—those lazy parents who deny all responsibility for the behaviour of their offspring and blame the state for everything. They need to realise that if they cannot control their children, the state will fine them. If that does not work, we will put them behind bars with their children. That would give the family some quality time together to reflect on the values of responsibility and discipline.

I am sick and tired of hearing reports of schoolchildren bullying and manipulating pupils and teachers alike in the knowledge that the teacher cannot lay a finger on them. We need to re-establish discipline in the classroom and show pupils that the teacher is in charge of the class, not two or three hooligans. That means that we must allow teachers the commonsense flexibility to punish children in an appropriate manner. Some children need ticking off. Some need a clip around the ear. Some need a bloody good hiding. How about the reintroduction—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly, but I ask him to moderate his language.

Mr. Evans

Some need a good hiding. How about the reintroduction of national service? Young people—both men and women—need to learn the values of discipline, team work and a deference to authority. I am not suggesting that everyone takes a military duty; in many cases it would be more useful for individuals to have more direct contact with the community, such as caring for the elderly or working with young children. Youngsters need to develop a sense of duty, and what better way is there to get that than by serving their nation for a year?

What about corporal punishment? We must face up to the fact that certain categories of criminal have a limited intelligence and can respond only to basic messages. Community service is a joke to that kind of person, and prison is a waste of time. The only way to get the message across is to revert to old-fashioned flogging. What better way is there to stop a rapist from reoffending than to castrate him, to take away his wedding gifts? I think that the Crown Prosecution Service should be scrapped forthwith and that the money saved should be spent on more police. Perhaps police should be paid a bonus for every successful prosecution.

Then we come to mad judge disease. Perhaps judges should be paid a percentage of the fines that they impose. They might then start to hand out sentences that fit the crime. Perhaps governors of prisons should get bonuses based on the number of unsolved crimes that they crack by intercepting prisoners' mail and listening to their conversations on the telephone and in cells.

Perhaps old-age pensioners should get a double Christmas bonus if they can prove that they shot a burglar in the past year, or defended their allotment. Perhaps child molesters should not be given protection in prison. Perhaps victims of violent crimes should be allowed tó choose the punishment for the criminal. That might make criminals think twice. I want criminals to want to get out of prison—not to try to get into prison as they do now, especially when we have a cold spell.

What can we expect from Labour at the next general election? I am told that Labour Members are going to crack down on squeegee merchants—those pathetic individuals who wait at traffic queues to clean our car windscreens. I grant that they are a nuisance, but I doubt whether a crackdown on that rather irrelevant sector of the fringe of the criminal fraternity will make the electorate rest at ease.

I hear that the Labour Front-Bench team have been sent to management schools to develop their skills. What a joke that is. Perhaps they should take lessons in reality and listen to the needs of their constituents. One day, they might just come up with a half-decent idea.

Mark my words, crime will be the key issue at the next general election. The public want to feel secure, so they want a Government who will protect them. My constituents know the Conservative record on law and order, but what about Labour's? What will Labour Members be telling the public? I have a few questions to ask them. It is interesting to note how strong they are on crime and how many of them are here today to take part in this debate. Is not that an interesting insight into what they think about law and order? They could not get up the motorways to their constituencies quickly enough.

Come the next election, will Labour Members say that a member of the shadow Cabinet has called for the legalisation of cannabis? Will they tell the public that? Will they say that they opposed the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which strengthened police powers to stop and search suspects? Will they say that they opposed the Public Order Act 1986, which gave the police better powers to deal with street disorder?

Will Labour Members say that they opposed the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which raised the maximum sentence for serious crime? Will they say that they opposed the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which made parents more responsible for their children's actions? Will they say that they opposed the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993, which introduced tough new measures to crack down on bogus asylum seekers?

Will Labour Members say that they continue to oppose the annual renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, as they have every year since 1983? Will they say that they oppose secure training orders for persistent young offenders? Will they be able to say that their home affairs team has consistently called for stiffer prison sentences? Will they say that they attempted to introduce amendments which would have made it more difficult for the courts to refuse bail?

On law and order, we have no competition. How many Labour Members are here this morning? We are the party of law and order and that is not in question. That, however, does not mean that we should rest on our laurels. If I were to prepare a school report on the performance of our Home Secretary over the past few months, it would read, "A flying start to the year, but plenty more to do. Keep it up. Do not slow down. Do not let the Home Office civil servants water down what you know to be right." My constituents want law and order. They know that the only party to turn to is the Conservative party. They are beginning to think that, at last, they have a Home Secretary who is strong enough to set up a framework to sweep crime off the streets and who will introduce measures that satisfy the victim and punish the villain. The people of Welwyn Hatfield are behind this Government. The Government have their trust and have built up their hopes. I urge the Government, please do not let them down.

11.34 am
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans). We always know where he stands, even if we do not wish to be standing anywhere near him at the time.

I should start by taking the cautious step of declaring an interest. For the past 25 years I have been a practising barrister. I have prosecuted and I have defended, and for about 10 years I have been a recorder. I am also involved in various non-political bodies connected with the legal system and the sentencing process.

One always approaches these debates with the suspicion that the politics of law and order neither enhance the law nor improve the good order of the society in which we live. Debates like this can draw out on the one side the dotty, and on the other side the sanctimonious, and there is always a danger of being left with a compromise of policy that is a bit dotty and slightly sanctimonious. I hope that we can escape that in the conclusions that are drawn from this debate.

Before I turn to my general theme, I should like to deal with a number of points that were raised by the Minister in what was an interesting and wide-ranging speech. I entirely share his view that we should take every step feasible to improve the security of our communities—the physical security of town centres and housing estates. I should also mention the security of rural areas such as Montgomeryshire, which I represent. The success of the farm watch scheme in Montgomeryshire has not only reduced the scourge of sheep rustling—a centuries-old offence that remains as difficult to detect as ever it was without the total support of the farming community. The success of farm watch has helped to reduce other crimes, too, in rural areas like mine.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) referred in passing to the Dyfed-Powys police. I pay tribute to that force. Under the extremely imaginative leadership of its chief constable, Ray White, it has become the most successful force statistically in the whole of England and Wales. One can understand why if one has had the sort of contact with it that I have had.

A few summers ago, there was a huge hippy invasion in part of my constituency. One midnight I rang up the police control room—the ordinary control room—simply to get a report on how things had progressed during the day because many constituents had contacted me. The switchboard was answered by the chief constable of Dyfed-Powys police, Mr. White, who was taking his turn in dealing with ordinary public inquiries on that evening of stress for the local police. That is a fine example of the sort of work which Ray White is prepared to do.

Ray White has done something else that I think that the Home Office ought to consider in response to the demands that the Crown Prosecution Service should be brought closer to the police. When the CPS was created, the then Attorney-General, the right hon. and learned Member for Tunbridge Wells (Sir P. Mayhew), made it absolutely clear that it was his purpose to ensure that we had an independent Crown Prosecution Service. He was right. The rationale for having an independent CPS is as good as ever. Its independence in many areas has helped to improve the quality of evidence brought forward by the police because it has been able to advise the police in an independent way.

I have real misgivings about bringing the Crown Prosecution Service as close to the police as, for example, the old Metropolitan police prosecutors used to be when I was a pupil barrister in London a long time ago.

In Dyfed-Powys, Mr. White has employed an experienced criminal lawyer as the force legal adviser. Other forces have done the same. The result is that, in cases with tricky problems, and in connection with investigations as well as decisions on whether to bring charges, the force is able to turn to an in-house lawyer who can give advice, the expertise for which is founded on inside knowledge of the way in which the police service operates. I suggest to the Home Office that it would be better to increase the number of force legal advisers than to increase the closeness between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service in an operational sense.

A matter to which I referred in an intervention is the position of victims of crime. I have declared my interest, so I can safely say this: from the viewpoint of someone who sits in the Crown court as a judge, it is often frustrating that in crimes of violence, the judge cannot really know, first, what has happened to the victim and, secondly, what the views of the victim are about the crime after a period of reflection. The views of the victim are sometimes rather surprising, and it is always helpful to know them.

I suggest to the Home Office that we have reached the point at which the simple step of a written statement, as suggested by the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock), might be appropriate. At the very least, if we do not have a formal procedure, we should have an invariable informal practice to ensure that when a crime of violence in particular has taken place, the physical and mental condition of the victim are routinely drawn to the attention of the judge. We should ensure too that the views of the victim at the time of the sentencing of the criminal are known, which may or may not, according to the discretion of the judge, affect the sentence that is passed. At least if that information is given, the judge has empirical information on which to act.

Mr. Maclean

I do not dissent from the vast bulk of what the hon. and learned Gentleman says. We want, of course, to ensure that the prosecution is able to argue intelligently on the condition of the victim. It is vital that the prosecution can present that information to the court so that the judge is aware of it. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman accept, however, that part of my worry about a formalised victim impact statement is that it might be challengeable by the defence? If it was challenged by the defence, we might find that there was a big argument about whether it was accurate and there might be an attempt to cross-examine the victim on the state of his or her suffering.

Mr. Carlile

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's concern. In the courts now, so-called Newton hearings take place which are designed to determine the basis on which sentence is to be passed and the judge can do little to avoid a Newton hearing if a defendant is determined to have it. Fortunately, by and large—believe it or not, lawyers occasionally do something useful in court—the lawyers and the judge working together usually ensure that Newton hearings are unnecessary and that an agreed basis for sentence can be found. I think that the Minister has slightly exaggerated the worry.

The Minister also mentioned drugs. I am glad that he came to that in his speech. When I started at the Bar in 1970, most offences committed by young people were related to alcohol. Now, most serious offences committed by young people are in some way related to drugs. In 1970, when I started to practise, drugs were in the dance halls and the discos. Through the 1980s, they reached the gates of the school. Now there is hardly an area in which drugs are not available within schools. I include rural areas such as those which I and the Minister represent, which are similar in character.

The drugs available include extremely dangerous psychotropic drugs such as ecstasy. Those drugs alter the balance of the mind and, worse still, alter the chemistry of the brain. Some of them may be short-acting, but their effects, as we know from the Leah Betts case and many others, can be extreme. I do not seek to play politics with any attempt by any Government of any persuasion to ensure that young people in schools, starting from a very young age, are made fully aware of the dangers of drug abuse.

Lady Olga Maitland

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Carlile

In a moment.

I believe that if we had a royal commission on drugs, which is my party's policy, it would come down firmly against the legalisation of cannabis and all dangerous drugs; I have strong personal views on that point.

Lady Olga Maitland


Mr. Carlile

I will give way in a moment. The hon. Lady should be patient.

To finish my paragraph, I urge the Home Office and especially the Department for Education and Employment to recognise that health education on drugs in schools is patchy. In some schools, it is taught well whereas in other schools, it is a fill-in subject taught by people who spend most of their time teaching other subjects and who have little knowledge of the real issues. It is time for a determined standardisation of the quality of health education on drugs.

I cannot offer a solution. I do not believe that any of us has found the solution to this desperate problem. However, from my observations in the courts over many years, I can tell the Minister that drugs are ruining not only the lives of young people who have come from deprived backgrounds, some of whom might, therefore, be expected to commit crimes, but the lives of children from perfectly organised families where there are two parents and a strong sense of responsibility. Somehow, the temptation of the drug, usually through the school at first, is overwhelming. Now I will give way.

Lady Olga Maitland

I totally accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's personal feelings about drugs]. However, how does he equate his feelings with the fact that in 1994 at the Liberal Democrat party conference, delegates voted for a motion supporting the decriminalisation of the possession and use of cannabis? Surely that passes out a dangerous and insidious message. In truth, that is the real position of the Liberal Democrats. They are soft on drugs.

Mr. Carlile

The hon. Lady is known for the sometimes incomplete co-ordination between her eyes and her brain. If she had bothered to read the policy passed by the Liberal Democrats, about which I have just told her—that is why I made her wait before allowing her intervention—she would have realised that it was for a royal commission on the use of drugs.

Lady Olga Maitland

indicated dissent.

Mr. Carlile

The hon. Lady may shake her head if she wishes, but she really should, with her record of tabling amendments that she has not even drafted, take the trouble to read other people's writings rather than make up her own version.

Lady Olga Maitland

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. and learned Gentleman to make abusive comments about other hon. Members? Do you, Madam Deputy Speaker, agree that the hon. and learned Gentleman should withdraw those remarks?

Madam Deputy Speaker

There is a certain cut and thrust in debate. Although truly abusive remarks must not be made in the House, I do not think that we have come to that point yet.

Mr. Carlile

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps we can now get on to another point of substance—

Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport)

Before the hon. and learned Gentleman moves on, will he give way?

Mr. Carlile

I may give way to the hon. Gentleman a little later. I want to get on.

Mr. Banks

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Carlile


Mr. Banks

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman too frightened?

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The rules in this House are clear. If an hon. Member who has the Floor does not give way, other hon. Members must sit down again. As this is a debate about law and order, I hope that the laws of this House will be obeyed.

Mr. Carlile

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I may give way to the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) a little later if he still wishes to intervene.

I turn to another point mentioned by the Minister—the Government's new sentencing proposals. I can understand the instinct that gives rise to sentencing proposals to make sentences tougher for serious offences. I support that view. I also support the view, which many judges have held for many years, that it would be far better for the judiciary to pass the real sentence than a fictitious sentence. The law is full enough of fictions, but they do not lie well in the criminal law.

The Minister may be bound to recognise in due course, however, that the quantum of sentences may be affected by the decision that the Government have announced.

Mr. Maclean

indicated assent.

Mr. Carlile

I see the Minister nodding. Some of his hon. Friends may be less enthusiastic to accept that inevitability than he is. If the proposals are not accepted, the consequences for the prison system will be dramatic and intolerable.

I have a warning for the Minister, to which I hope he will pay heed. If somebody convicted for the second time of a serious sexual offence will be the subject of a mandatory life sentence, it will be difficult to obtain convictions before juries for second or subsequent serious sexual offences. Without echoing what might be regarded as the extravagant language used by Lord Donaldson in The Guardian a few days ago, I underline the fact that, on the whole, despite what the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield said, judges do pass severe sentences when there is, for example, a second conviction of rape.

Those sentences may not always be life sentences, but they are usually measured in substantial double figures. I personally have never seen a second conviction for rape that did not result in a sentence of 12 to 15 years or more, and I have seen numerous life sentences passed in such circumstances.

There is no difficulty now in obtaining a conviction in such a case, other than the ordinary difficulties always presented by the need to ensure that the evidence is sufficient to justify it. But the moment that a jury realises—and there is no way of avoiding that realisation—that if it convicts there will be a life sentence, and it imagines that the key will be thrown away, it will become difficult to persuade the members of the jury to convict.

I am an opponent of capital punishment, and when I first entered the House I was involved in a case in a Crown court out of London. I asked the judge's permission to be absent for half a day so that I could speak in the debate on capital punishment. He was a tough judge with a reputation for being excellent but uncompromising, and he called me to his room and asked which side I was speaking on. With some trepidation, I told him that I would speak against capital punishment. He replied, "I shall let you have the afternoon off then, because when we had capital punishment it was very difficult to get convictions for murder." And that man was a judge with a reputation for toughness, who had practised at a time when the death sentence was mandatory for murder. Of course a life sentence is not a death sentence, but the point still holds good. If the jury knows that the consequences are fixed by law, it may be reluctant to convict.

In 1979 the Conservative manifesto said that a crucial part of the party's beliefs was respect for the rule of law. The actual words were:

respect for the rule of law is the basis of a free and civilised life. We will restore it…giving the right priority to the fight against crime". However, the truth about what has happened since 1979 is that crime has more than doubled.

Although the statistics that have been repeated today, and on which the Government frequently rely, show a recent decline in crime—a fall of 5 per cent. nationally over 12 months—if one sets that against the record of previous years it is difficult to say that it really represents a turning point.

I do not seek to make a party political issue out of that, because it is much too serious, but the Government should recognise that in the continuum of the fight against crime, with the changes in society that give rise to increasing crime, we must be ever vigilant, and always prepared to change a policy. Knee-jerk political reactions do not always produce beneficial changes in policy. We are all tempted by the hype available to us through the publicity at party conferences, but what happens as a result does not always work in practice.

In 1982 the then Home Secretary made a strong speech at the Conservative party conference similar to that made by the present Home Secretary this year. I was on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill that was subsequently introduced, which became the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The Minister, too, served on that Committee, and I believe that he would agree that we had a pretty constructive debate. I suspect that we both still have our badges, presented to us by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who was then shadow Home Secretary, to commemorate the fact that that Committee met more often than any other Standing Committee ever.

We had detailed debates, which produced what has turned out to be probably the best piece of criminal legislation this century. The Act has been effective both ways, and has passed almost all tests, subject to a few amendments. It has protected some defendants against injustice and has ensured the conviction of many criminals.

However, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act did not arrest the rise in crime, because that is a social issue bigger than anything that we can do in the House. The Act certainly did not arrest the rise in crimes of violence. Indeed, between 1980 and 1987 crimes of personal violence accelerated by about 4,000 a year, and since then there has been an exponential increase in such crimes.

I am not convinced that current policy is doing anything to reduce crimes of violence. For financial reasons, the Crown Prosecution Service frequently prosecutes defendants for lesser offences when more serious offences could be used. Magistrates all over the country complain that offences of common assault are often prosecuted when there have been fairly serious injuries. Although the Queen's Bench divisional court has recently held that even when the charge is common assault, the sentence that can be passed is the sentence that fits the crime, we are not sending the right message to victims—that message of which the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield spoke. Those procedures do not seem to be tough on crime. I urge the Home Office to review the arrangement whereby the CPS makes those decisions, and also to look at the other end of the spectrum—the way in which decisions are made about the prosecution of more serious offences.

Those who have the conduct of cases in court, especially prosecuting counsel, express an increasing sense of frustration that when plainly obvious and sensible decisions—not about plea bargaining, although that is, and always has been, a reality in our courts—dictate themselves concerning the conduct of a case, it is sometimes necessary to go back to the Crown Prosecution Service in great detail to obtain instructions. That has the effect of holding up the procedure of the courts, thus increasing whatever antipathy there may be between judges and the Government, about which there has been much recent publicity.

Incidentally, I believe, as I know that many judges do, that that antipathy has been greatly exaggerated by the press. It is right that the Lord Chief Justice, a man of forthright views and great clarity of expression, should go to the other place and express those views when matters of great concern to the judges arise. I suspect that that is one reason why the Lord Chief Justice is a member of the House of Lords.

However, it does not help the dynamic that must exist between judges and Government for the Government and Conservative Back Benchers to use expressions such as "mad judge disease" and to criticise the judges as though they were lefty pariahs. I must tell the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield that most judges went to the same schools and universities to which the Government are criticised for being still too allied. Judges are not, on the whole, namby-pamby social democrats. On the whole, judges are realistic and experienced people, some of whom—I suspect at least half—probably vote Tory by instinct, let alone by judgment. So if the dynamic is not working, we must look for the reasons why and not descend into vulgar abuse.

One specific area that is causing much concern to the organisations concerned with analysing the criminal justice system is the use and utility of the prison system. The Minister made what may go down in the annals of some of the organisations with which I have connections as one of the most remarkably positive interventions that we have heard in years from a Conservative Minister. He stated that prisoners should be able to work and to earn a wage for that work, and that they should do work which is not simply painting and repainting the same wall that has been erected for that purpose. Their work should be productive and useful, and they should have ubiquitous access to education.

Prisons should be just what John Howard—whose name is remembered through the Howard league—believed more than 100 years ago. He believed that prison serves society only if it achieves two things, one of which—very obviously—is to lock up people whom we need to keep out of the way because they are too dangerous or too much of a menace. That is the basic utility of prison.

The other reason for using imprisonment, as John Howard saw it, is that prisoners should emerge from prison having been helped in a way which makes them less likely to commit crime, rather than more likely. That should not involve them having televisions in their cells or making prisons comfortable. Prison should not be a comfortable place, but it should be a useful place for those who will emerge from it.

If the Minister is determined that that should happen, he will deserve the praise which he will get. But it ain't happening at the moment, and I shall give an example of that. Internal sanitation in prisons was a necessary measure, and it has made a great improvement in physical respects. But in some respects, particularly in some young offenders institutions, it has been used to reduce the utility of the institution.

I have visited young offenders institutions, including one very new institution in which internal sanitation was simply used as an excuse to lock the prisoners in their cells without anything much to do for the vast proportion of the day. That does not work.

Mr. Matthew Banks

Which institution was this?

Mr. Carlile

Brinsford. I took a group of foreign lawyers and criminologists—some of whom came from tough sentencing regimes—there and they were shocked by what they saw. A number of lay magistrates to whom I have spoken and who have visited that institution were also shocked by what they saw. Physically, the site is fine. It is brand new, clean and tidy. But the regime there is not designed in any way to ensure that the young people who emerge are qualified to do much more than use more drugs, commit more burglaries and beat up more people in the streets.

Lady Olga Maitland

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there is a very developed education programme in the Prison Service, and that many young prisoners are almost illiterate when they arrive in prison because they have spent their lives in crime or playing truant? The education programme gives them the opportunity to learn to read and write, and to start taking public examinations. Many of the prisoners go on to take degrees, and I have come across one person taking a PhD. There is a well-developed education programme, and I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will pay tribute to it.

Mr. Carlile

There are not many young offenders on short sentences who are taking PhDs, but I would certainly praise the literacy schemes which are in use in Brinsford and in other young offenders institutions. I visited Liverpool prison not long ago, and there have been dramatic improvements there, particularly in the way in which the literacy scheme has been promulgated. The take-up of the scheme has increased as a result. But I urge the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland)—whose strong views may sometimes cloud her judgment—to go and look at more of these institutions. I am sure that she has visited some of them, but she should go to more and make an objective judgment as to whether the people emerging from them are more or less likely to commit crime in the future. The statistics suggest that they are more likely to commit crime in the future.

Mr. Michael

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman find it ironic that support for the prison education service should come from Conservative Back-Bench Members, when the squeeze on the finances of prisons is leading to the education service being ripped out of many prisons? Would it not be a good idea for the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) to press the Home Secretary to end that disgraceful policy?

Mr. Carlile

The point is well made, and I urge the hon. Lady to press the Home Secretary to ensure that the education service in prisons is increased. There have been some succesful partnerships between local further education colleges and prisons, which have been an improvement on the old prison education system. That has been introduced by the Government, and of course I recognise that. But there is an awful lot more work to be done.

Prisons can be thought to be useful in cases where they are the exact opposite. The Coopers and Lybrand study—to which the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth referred—seems to demonstrate that teaching people to read and giving them useful skills before they go to a young offenders institution will achieve much more than any prison regime could.

The probation service has been mentioned, and it is a truism that if all that a probation officer achieves in a year is to keep one young person out of prison for that year, he will have paid for his own salary and earned a profit for the country. The same, of course, goes for police constables on the beat. Value for money is not found in prisons—value for money is ensuring that people do not go to prison, and ensuring that ordinary law-abiding citizens are able to walk the streets in the knowledge that there is justice and security for the public.

Another aspect of the utility of prisons that I wish to mention relates to women. There has been a worrying increase in the number of women in prison—a rise of 40 per cent. in the past two years. During 1994, the number of women in prison reached its highest level ever. The concern is heightened by the fact that the rise in the number of women in prison is closely related to fine default and to drugs, and is also connected with poverty. Many of that group of women who are often the butt of criticism—women who have been left alone to bring up children—suffer poverty, which can bring them into crime. Evidence obtained by the probation service suggests that poverty is a very strong element in the admission of women to prison, even to the extent of involving women in drugs and prostitution.

National standards in writing pre-sentence reports has brought about a remarkable improvement in the reports. I have read many reports, and the change has been dramatic. The reports are more realistic than they used to be, and they give the courts a more realistic picture of the background of the person concerned and why he or she has become involved in crime.

I urge the Government to ensure, in reviewing the utility of prison—which of course has an important part to play in the sentencing system—that the issue of why more women are going inside is studied. Having visited men's and women's prisons—I hope I will not be thought to be making a sexist point, as that is not my intention—I would say that, in my judgment, women's prisons on the whole are much more frightening places than men's prisons. The level of tension which one experiences in the atmosphere in a women's prison can be extreme. I doubt very much if women's prisons are achieving even what men's prisons are achieving.

The final point I would make on the issue is that many people who come before the courts are psychologically disturbed, some seriously. This is often due to a connection with drugs. Some of the present psychiatric services are excellent. Where there are drug withdrawal schemes, they are extremely successful, but they are by no means ubiquitous and the standards need to be addressed, with the aspiration of achieving the best everywhere.

I applaud those who decided to give us the opportunity to debate these important issues. As I said earlier, they make bad politics. They are too important for slogans and political headlines. I hope that by the end of the debate we will have shed more light than heat on our concerns.

12.10 pm
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

I want primarily to discuss the issue raised by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) of rehabilitation in prisons, but, first, I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister. He is aware that Lincolnshire Members of Parliament have been pounding on his door throughout the year, complaining about the financial settlement for their local police force. On behalf of Lincolnshire police and Lincolnshire Members of Parliament—I am the only one present today—I thank my right hon. Friend for treating us with enormous courtesy. He listened carefully to our concerns, especially on the sparsity factor, and he then met them. We could not have possibly asked for a better settlement. He has increased funding by 3.4 per cent.—£1.9 billion—over the year. The people of Lincolnshire will be grateful to him for his decision.

As the Minister said, there will be 32 more police officers in Lincolnshire than there were in 1979. The chief constable estimates that the numbers will rise by a further seven by the end of the financial year. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and I thank him for what he has done.

Knowing that I hoped to speak in the debate, I telephoned the chief constable yesterday. I hope that the House will forgive me for making a local point. It is interesting to note what has been achieved by Operation Christmas Cracker in Lincolnshire. It has one of the smaller police forces, yet 77 premises were searched, 34 people arrested and 16 people charged, which shows that the operation has been a considerable success. Property recovered includes electrical equipment, jewellery, tools, car radios, alloy wheels, motor vehicles, antique paintings, sports clothing, cheque books, benefit books, computer equipment and vehicle documents.

The chief constable told me an interesting little fact. Thanks to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Minister and our right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, recorded crime in Lincolnshire has dropped by 7 per cent. over the past year, with burglary and vehicle crimes dropping by 4 per cent. However, a report from Lincolnshire police on rural crime shows that despite the overall reduction of 6 per cent. this year to date—1 January to 30 September—there has been a 3 per cent. increase in rural areas. The report says that a number of issues are involved, and that a lack of resources outside urban areas, displacement of crime due to CCTV and the large geographical area of the county may be significant.

My right hon. Friend should take that message as a warning. He represents a large rural constituency, as I do. In these debates, where we concentrate on the major problem of urban crime, it is easy to forget the rural areas. We should highlight them. I will not weary the House with all that the Lincolnshire police have told me, but clearly a great deal of work needs to be done, such as setting up more neighbourhood and farm watch schemes. There are 54 farm watches in Lincolnshire, covering almost 1,000 farms, but as the police make clear, that is but a small number because the farming communities are, by nature, isolationist. They do not want to work together, but they must do so—and in co-operation with the local police—if we are to deal with rural crime.

Mr. Maclean

I did not focus heavily on rural crime in my speech today, not because I do not consider it important—I do—but because there is to be a National Farmers Union conference on rural crime next week, when a Home Office Minister will deliver a keynote speech setting out all aspects of our policy. I felt that I could not incorporate large chunks of that speech into today's speech because it would have made it inordinately long.

Mr. Leigh

Rural counties such as Lincolnshire will look forward to learning of what transpires during the next few weeks.

As I said earlier, I want to deal with the issue of rehabilitation, which was raised by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery: it is the absolute key to our discussions. As long ago as 1895, the Gladstone committee said:

We start from the principle that prison treatment should have as its primary and concurrent objects deterrence and reformation. That was adopted as official policy and it became the basis for all subsequent action in the prison service.

As the years passed, confidence in the treatment model, as it was called, declined. In 1979, a Government report from a committee of inquiry into the prison service said:

The drive behind the original borstal ideas has fallen away and there is now no belief that longer sentences may be justified because they make actual reformative treatment more possible. That sort of thinking has infected the whole debate.

The report also states:

As confidence in the treatment model has waned in this way, no alternative philosophy commanding wide public support has taken its place. Members of the prison service of all grades from governor downwards, responsible for locking up their inmates and for providing regimes for them, have in consequence tended to lose faith in any positive justification for the inherently unpleasant tasks which are their job. Further, the wide intellectual debate which, as we have indicated, has been undermining the treatment model and simultaneously trying to provide a satisfactory alternative philosophy, has on occasions merely given fresh currency to the old ideas that imprisonment could be no more than punitive and deterrent. My purpose in speaking in the debate is my belief that we must begin to stress much more strongly the concept of rehabilitation in our prison service. That ties in with what my right hon. Friend has said today about his plans to deal with burglary, and I want to focus my remarks on that. I have thought for a long time that burglary is an absolute plague on our society. I credit the Government for the progress that they have made over the past year or two. When we knock on doors and canvass, the one aspect of Government to which people are warming is the Home Secretary's absolute determination to deal with that problem. They are glad that he has been left in his job and that he has been getting a grip of the problem.

I have argued for some time that we must do more about burglary and that there must be minimum deterrent sentences. The Government are now saying that someone who commits two or more burglaries will definitely go to prison. I do not think that that will reassure the public, who see burglary as the No. 1 plague in our society. It would have an enormous impact on society and burglars if people knew that if someone breaks into a private dwelling house, causing such appalling anguish and invading people's very privacy, he will go to prison. If the Government were to adopt such a policy, it would strike a tremendous chord with the public.

I have argued that point for some time, but I know that judges would be unwilling to accept it. They will say that the personal circumstances of offenders—for example, their ages—may differ. Few of us would take the risk, for instance, of drinking and driving because we know that if we did we would lose our licences. It is a clear and simple thing that the public understand. If the public understood that people who caused the anguish that burglary causes would end up in prison, it would have a major effect.

That is easy to say but I am not suggesting, before the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery is appalled by what I say, that we should simply put offenders, especially younger offenders, who account for most of the problem, into ancient Victorian institutions, throw away the key and forget about them. That is no solution.

For inspiration, I turn to the Home Office's "Directions to the Parole Board under section 32(6) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991", which deals with the release of mandatory life sentence prisoners. I do not suggest, of course, that there should be life sentences for burglary. We carefully consider how life sentence prisoners have performed in prison. The only way to deal with the matter is to recognise that there is a plague on society, that a relatively small number of people perpetrate these crimes, that we must at least make an effort to rehabilitate them in prison and that we must have confidence in ourselves that some form of custody can result in their rehabilitation.

The guidelines state:

The Home Secretary takes the final decision on the release of mandatory life sentence prisoners … and that decision might be taken on grounds that go beyond the risk posed by the prisoner. The Home Secretary is also concerned with the wider political implications, including the effect on public confidence in the life sentence system which release may have. The guidelines continue:

Before recommending release, the Parole Board should consider whether: the lifer has shown by his performance in prison that he has made positive efforts to address his attitudes and behavioural problems and the extent to which progress has been made in doing so such that the risk that he will commit a further imprisonable offence after release is minimal. The Parole Board is entitled to consider

the offender's background … the nature and circumstances of the original offence… the sentencing judge's comments … attitude and behaviour in custody … degree of remorse and steps taken to achieve the treatment and training objectives set out in the life sentence plan … the lifer's relationship with the probation service and other outside support such as family and friends. If people commit burglaries, they should be given a minimum deterrent sentence and told that their ability to leave prison and get back into society will depend on their behaviour in custody, the degree of remorse, the extent to which they have been willing to undertake training, their relationship with the probation service and their attitude and behaviour while in custody.

All those factors should be taken into account so that people who were contemplating committing burglary would know that they would receive a custodial sentence of some sort. It would not necessarily be in an ancient institution. There would be a great deal of flexibility about how such people were dealt with. The emphasis would he on deterrence and rehabilitation. Unless we are prepared to overlook all the evidence that has been thrown at us in recent years that suggests that rehabilitation does not work, we will never solve the problem. One research study, to take one of many, declared:

rehabilitative methods tend, by and large, not to rehabilitate… research into the effectiveness of 'methods of intervention' … is a doomed endeavour. That was by an author called Pitts writing in 1992.

Other authors have assembled a sizeable list of studies in which promising outcomes have been obtained and challenged the traditional view that rehabilitation does not work. For instance, one study said:

Equally damaging for the 'nothing works' position was a study by Thornton (1987) in which he reinvestigated a selection of the studies used by Lipton and co-workers (1975) to derive their original conclusions. Contrary to what had been claimed by Lipton and colleagues, a number of these projects had in fact described positive outcomes. Indeed, focusing on those studies that employed psychological therapy as the 'treatment' in controlled experimental designs, almost 50 per cent. of the results had demonstrated a positive advantage for therapeutic intervention. We have to have the courage both to carry on with the work of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister, in focusing on deterrence but, as the other side of coin, also to say that rehabilitation does and must have a role, especially for younger people. In a way, people could learn a lot by discarding a lot of recent studies and reading a book written over 100 years ago by Tolstoy, called "Resurrection". He deals with the criminal system of his time. Many of the arguments that he was talking about 100 years ago are still being debated today.

Tolstoy argued that there is a place for deterrence and rehabilitation and reformation in society. If we concentrate on that, we can make great progress in the future.

12.25 pm
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

The Minister paid tribute to our new chief constable in Lancashire, Pauline Clare. I want to talk later about spiralling crime in Lancashire.

First, I want to pick up what the Minister said about people having to be taught the difference between right and wrong. It was the same sort of stuff that was published in 1993 by the Home Office public relations unit in a pamphlet entitled "Government Policy on Law and Order". It states:

There is no point in politicians… calling for a return to old fashioned morality and respect for authority … it must be taught by example. The Conservative Government could not publish anything like that today without risking gales of laughter.

Society has been fashioned since 1979 in an unfair way. The gap between poorest and richest is greater than at any time since records began in 1886. There is deep poverty and alienation. There is far too much unemployment, which has deliberately been used by the Government as an instrument of economic policy. It was a "price well worth paying". We are now paying the price in rising crime, which is—I shall come to the statistics in a minute—linked directly to youth unemployment.

We heard from the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) about the sparsity factor, which has been introduced into the formula for police grant. The police grant also contains a factor for young male unemployment. The money that goes from central Government to the police authorities is determined, in part, by the level of young male unemployment, so there is a link and we should not deny it.

Crime in my county of Lancashire has doubled since 1979, as it has doubled nationally. The risk of a household being burgled is one in 12 in Lancashire; in 1979 it was one in 43. The risk of a vehicle being broken into in Lancashire is one in seven; in 1979 it was one in 15. The most horrifying statistic of the lot is that the risk of a person being assaulted in Lancashire is one in 123; in 1979, it was one in 283. That is a deplorable record.

There has been a 55 per cent. increase in violence against the person since 1979. Robberies have quadrupled; there has been a 440 per cent. increase in robbery since 1979. Burglary, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle, has increased by 220 per cent. in Lancashire since 1979. There has even been an 89 per cent. increase in burglary since 1989. Theft from cars has increased by 296 per cent. since 1979. Criminal damage has increased by 206 per cent. in Lancashire since 1979. The number of offences in Lancashire has increased by 116 per cent since 1979. The crime rate has doubled in Lancashire: it has doubled nationally. We have had an explosion in crime.

That is the recent history. What has happened in the 1990s? In Lancashire, in 1990, there was a 20 per cent. increase in crime on the previous year; in 1991, there was a 14.2 per cent. increase on the 1990 figure; in 1992, a 9.5 per cent. increase on 1991 figure; and then it began to slow down. In 1993, there was a 1 per cent. increase. The latest fall is to be welcomed, but since 1979 there has been a cataclysmic rise in crime.

We are now promised 5,000 additional police officers over the next three years. We have been here before. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) reminded me that, in 1972, the then Home Secretary pledged an additional 1,000 police officers. That never happened. The Prime Minister made exactly the same pledge before the 1992 general election. Nothing happened. We never did get an extra 1,000 police officers, so people are sceptical.

When the announcement was made about the additional money that would be made available to the police authorities, the new chief constable in Lancashire, Pauline Clare, implied that she would have to look at the small print. She said:

At first sight it would seem our allocation is above the current rate of inflation but we will have to take a much closer look at the Home Secretary's proposals in the light of our own policing plans. The Government have been talking about more police for years, but the reality has rarely, if ever, caught up with the rhetoric.

We know from the report of Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary for 1994-95, which was published only on 25 October, that there was a decline in police numbers from 128,045 in 1992 to 127,358 in 1994. Although big structural changes in the police service account for some of the changes, there has been a decline.

The county of Lancashire, and the police authority, has spent at or above its standard spending assessment for every year since 1990. It is spending at a level that the Government think is appropriate to provide adequate policing in the county. The authorised police establishment before the changes of 1 April 1995 was 3,229. In no year since 1990 has the county force ever been up to establishment—never. In 1995, there were four fewer police officers in post in Lancashire than in 1990. There were 10 fewer police officers in post than the establishment in 1991; there were 14 fewer police officers in post in 1992; and, of course, in 1993 in Lancashire—as with elsewhere in the country—there was a freeze on police recruitment. In Lancashire in 1995, we have one more police officer than we had last year. That is the context in which we have to examine the promise of 5,000 additional police officers over three years.

I received a letter from the Minister of State on 30 November—other hon. Members will have received a similar letter referring to the situation in their own county. The Minister wrote to me about the situation in Lancashire. He said:

Under our proposals, your force's share of the additional funding in the first year will be £0.5m. This would be sufficient to recruit 28 police officers". That was the headline—28 additional police officers for Lancashire.

What is the position as it stands? We have 3,195 police officers in post in Lancashire as at the latest date for which we have figures—September 1995. If we add the 28 additional police officers that the Minister has promised, that brings us to 3,223, six fewer than the previous police establishment for Lancashire.

It is all done with mirrors. After all those announcements and all the additional police, even if Pauline Clare recruits the additional 28 police officers we shall be left with less than our previous establishment.

Mr. Nigel Evans

Fascinating as all this is, would the hon. Gentleman care to say how much extra money a future Labour Government would spend and how many extra police in Lancashire that would pay for?

Mr. Prentice

The difference is that we would not allow crime to spiral out of control, as it has under the present Government.

Mr. Evans

Answer the question.

Mr. Prentice

I am answering it in my own way. All those extra police are needed because crime has spiralled out of control. It has doubled nationally since 1979 and it has more than doubled in Lancashire since 1979. Conservative Members should not try to lecture me on the way in which a Labour Government would approach that.

Mr. Matthew Banks

Look what has happened.

Mr. Prentice

Whatever has happened, it has not been the responsibility of the Labour party, has it? We have had no responsibility for central Government for 16 years.

Mr. Kirkhope

For all that nonsense, the hon. Gentleman cannot get away from the simple fact that, under the last Labour Government, the number of police officers in the country was reduced by 8,000. It is all very well to speak as he does, but those are the realities. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has convinced the House of any good intent on the Labour party's part.

Mr. Prentice

There has been a generational change since 1979. I do not know how many Opposition Members were able to vote in 1979. Yes, that Labour Government may have made mistakes—who knows? However, I say to hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who is having a good laugh, that people outside the House are genuinely not interested in what happened in the 1970s. They are interested in what is happening now. They are interested in the present Government's record and in what Ministers have to say about respect for the law and trust for the institutions of the country, and they are squaring that with the cascade of sleaze that we have had from Conservative Members in the past few years—that is the difference between reality and rhetoric.

I shall now make the specific argument that I wanted to make about the consequence of that freeze and reduction in police officers in Lancashire.

I have had meetings with senior officers in the county about what is, I suppose, a policy of stealth to close down our police stations or change them from police stations open round the clock to part-time police stations. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley has that problem in Clitheroe, which is in the same police division as my constituency of Pendle. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Ms Anderson) had the same problem; the police station in Darwen was to change from full time to part time, but I believe that it has been reprieved.

Ms Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen)

indicated assent.

Mr. Prentice

I do not know the position.[Interruption.] I will give way to the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) if he has an argument to make.

Mr. Banks

The purpose was to get the bobbies on the heat. That is what mattered. When people are in trouble, they will dial 999, not necessarily rush to the police station.

Mr. Prentice

The hon. Gentleman has not listened to what I have said about police strength in Lancashire and getting bobbies back on the beat. The county, spending at or above its SSA, has not been able to deliver the full police establishment. That is the very point that I have been making, but the hon. Member for Southport has not twigged it—perhaps it is too difficult a concept for him to grasp.

I shall return to the subject of police stations that are becoming part-time rather than full-time stations. When I spoke to Superintendent Rawstrone—with whom I get on well, who is a competent superintendent and who is well regarded in the area—I asked him why all the police stations were now going part time. He said that more police were needed out on the beat. That is a fair enough suggestion, although the police strength has never been up to establishment. Perhaps when the hon. Member for Southport reads Hansard he will appreciate the point that I am trying to make.

I spoke earlier about the process being carried out by stealth. I read all the reports of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary for Lancashire dating hack to 1990. All police authorities now have to publish annual policing plans. The Lancashire police authority annual policing plan to which I shall refer was published in April 1995. It contains nothing about closing or changing the status of police stations from full to part time. It merely states that it wants to provide high-visibility policing. It continues:

We will make every effort to increase the amount of time officers spend outside the police station and in public, although experience suggests that more officers on visible patrol does not always result in a corresponding rise in public satisfaction. My constituents, and doubtless the people of Ribble valley and Clitheroe, do not want a trade-off whereby they can have more police on the beat, but the police stations close or go part time. People want police stations as well as police on the beat. The police station is a place of sanctuary and refuge; if people are in trouble, they run to the police station and knock on the door and they do not want it to be locked. But that is happening in Barnoldswick in my constituency, where the police authority wants the spanking new police station, which was opened only two and a half years ago at a cost of £650,000, to be open part time.

I took up the problem with Pauline Clare, the highly regarded new chief constable of Lancashire. She wrote to me and said that she would consider all the representations being made. She said that opinion polls carried out by the local newspapers had resulted in minimal response, with 51 replies to a telephone poll conducted by the Barnoldswick and Earby Times and four replies to a postal poll carried out by the Craven Herald and Pioneer. She is based in Preston and she does not think that there is too much public agitation in north-east Lancashire, where my constituency is located. But she is living in a parallel universe and clearly does not understand what is happening in north-east Lancashire.

The local papers have been full of reports about our local police stations closing. The town councillor in Barnoldswick, Sandra Garnett, had a 2,000-name petition against the proposal. She was quoted in the local papers saying that the people of West Craven

felt betrayed by 'empty promises' in the police's own charter. I agree with her entirely. Everyone in Barnoldswick and West Craven, regardless of their politics, wants the station to stay open.

Sally Lambert, who chairs Barnoldswick town council, has been outspoken, as have representatives of the Liberal party and, where they can be found, members of the Conservative party in West Craven. We want the police station to stay open. The hon. Member for Southport talks about police on the beat and the fact that people can always pick up the telephone or get in touch with the police in an emergency, but Mr. Michael Townson was quoted in the Craven Herald and Pioneer a few weeks ago. He saw some young people throwing fireworks at passing drivers. He ran to the police station and found that it was locked, but there was a hotline. He picked up the telephone link, but although he heard the police in Colne six miles away they could not hear him because it was a one-way hotline. That was not very good.

It was reported to the police at divisional headquarters at Colne that the telephone outside the closed police station in Barnoldswick operated in only one direction. A complaint was lodged, but a couple of days later Duncan Smith, a reporter from the Craven Herald and Pioneer, went to the police station at 6.30 pm—not in the middle of the night—to pick up a photograph and found the door locked. He telephoned Colne police station from a friend's house nearby and was told to go back to Barnoldswick station and ring again on the telephone link, and an officer would be sent to meet him. However, he experienced exactly the same problems as Mr. Townson. He said,

I could hear the operator"— six miles away at the divisional police headquarters in Colne—

answer but he could obviously not hear me… Thankfully, it was not an emergency, but I shudder to think what could have happened if it had been. That is the difference between having a police station that is open and one that is closed.

We do not want any more false rhetoric from the Government about getting more police on the beat until they start staffing properly the police service nationally and in Lancashire. We need a halt to police station closures. I have tabled parliamentary questions to Home Office Ministers, but they have taken a Pontius Pilate approach and replied that it is not a matter for them but one for the local police authority. That is simply not good enough for people in my neck of the woods—and I suspect those in Ribble Valley and Rossendale and Darwen.

Finally, people want some honesty from the Government in owning up to their manifest failure in curbing the growth of crime since 1979. It is an appalling record and one that people will not readily forgive.

12.46 pm
Mr. John Whittingdale (Colchester, South and Maldon)

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in a debate on a subject that causes enormous concern to my constituents and to all honest citizens. The strength of the public's concern is probably the only point on which I agree with the Opposition; given its strength, it is strange that only two Back-Bench Labour Members are present. I believe, however, that that is twice the number that were here for the first part of the debate.

One point that has been raised is that crime figures have risen since 1979. That is certainly true. Rising crime is not a new phenomenon; it is accepted as a fact of life in almost every country in the world. In Britain, crime figures have increased steadily under Governments of every colour.

In 1946, the number of notifiable offences recorded in England and Wales was 472,500. In 1992, the equivalent figure was 5.6 million. The cost to the country that that represents is enormous. In 1992, the value of property reported stolen in burglaries totalled about £1 billion. I understand that only about £64 million-worth has been recovered. A further £2.7 billion-worth of property and £1.8 billion-worth of motor vehicles was stolen.

The cost of crime is measured not just in economic terms. We have to include the blighted lives of the victims of crime and the suffering of those who have had their homes violated and lost treasured and irreplaceable possessions. We must take account also of the fears of citizens who are no longer prepared to answer the door after dark, who are unwilling to let their children out to play and who are too frightened to walk the streets at night. Those fears are not experienced only by people who live in confined areas or the inner cities—they are shared by my constituents who live in towns and villages where previously people did not even think to lock their doors.

In part, the fears might not be justified. They derive not so much from experience of crime as from reading the press or from watching the television news or programmes such as "Crimewatch UK". The lives of some people have, however, been touched by crimes that they previously thought unimaginable—such as the assault and robbery 18 months ago of a retired clergymen in his own home in the tiny village of Tolleshunt D'Arcy in my constituency.

For years it was taken for granted that the upward trend in the crime figures was inevitable and immutable. That counsel of despair was the accepted wisdom of sociologists, liberal academics and left-wing commentators. We were told that rising crime was not the fault of offenders but that society was to blame—that unemployment, poverty or simply boredom left offenders with no choice. We were told that it was all the fault of Hollywood, the materialist culture or income differentials in society. We were told that the threat of prison did not deter and that the effect of imprisonment was to alienate further and turn first offenders into repeat offenders.

Those theories were offensive and wrong. They offended anyone from a deprived background or broken family who had not turned to crime, but instead struggled to make their way and improve themselves through honest hard work. The experience of the past two and a half years has shown that punishment works, that the threat of prison deters and that imprisonment takes criminals off the streets and puts them where they cannot offend.

That assertion is evidenced by the drop of nearly 10 per cent. in recorded crime in the past two years—the largest and most sustained in the post-war period. Credit for that goes to the police, the Prison Service, the probation service and, most of all, the present Home Secretary, who had the guts to ignore received wisdom and to pursue the tough approach for which the police and my constituents have been crying out.

Not all the academics were wrong. I commend to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State the pamphlet by David Pyle, recently published by the Institute of Economic Affairs, which surveys the work of economists in analysing criminal behaviour. As an economist by training myself, I am attracted to that analysis—although, like most good theories, it appears to be common sense.

Becker, a former Nobel economics prize winner, suggested that someone is likely to commit a crime if the expected net benefit is greater than the expected benefit to be derived from legitimate activity. The criminal will therefore be deterred by increases in the likelihood of being caught or the amount of punishment that he can expect to receive. The empirical evidence supports those conclusions.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is entirely right to concentrate on improving the detection rate and imposing tougher sentences on criminals. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) in recommending that persons who are caught and convicted of burglary should expect to go to prison. By doing so, my right hon. and learned Friend will benefit from a virtuous circle. As the detection rate improves, the potential criminal will know that more people have been caught and so will be less likely to commit crime himself.

Improving the detection rate is, in the first instance, a job for the police. The Government are absolutely correct to concentrate on strengthening the front line. The Prime Minister's pledge to provide sufficient funding for an extra 5,000 officers in the next three years will make a major contribution towards improving detection. I should like to take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for the increase of £4.9 million in funding for the Essex police next year, and for the extra 28 officers that they will be able to recruit straight away.

The area that I represent is very rural; many of its small communities are remote and isolated. My constituents want to see more community officers living in villages. They want to see police stations continuously manned—that is the one point on which I share the views of the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr Prentice). They also want to see more policemen out on patrol. To achieve that in an area as sparse as the Dengie peninsula in my constituency will always be hard, but it has been made harder by the diversion of manpower away from crime detection and prevention to police the demonstrations that have been taking place a little up the coast, at Brightlingsea.

Such demonstrations have to be policed, particularly in view of some of the disgraceful violence that has taken place there, but it is not acceptable that, as a result, police cover should be reduced to dangerously low levels elsewhere. The extra money that has been announced will help, but if prolonged events such as those at Brightlingsea become increasingly common, the Government might have to consider what additional measures are necessary to deal with them.

The Government are also right to give the police the opportunity to benefit from all the technology that we can bring to bear in the fight against crime. The establishment of a DNA database will prove an effective resource in enabling the police to identify offenders beyond doubt and to obtain their conviction. The installation of closed circuit television, to which my right hon. Friend the Minister rightly referred, is also proving extraordinarily effective in helping to catch criminals and to deter others. Since Brentwood, in Essex, installed its own security camera scheme last year, crime has fallen by nearly 40 per cent. Violence, vandalism, graffiti, shoplifting and credit card fraud have all dropped dramatically. With Government help, CCTV has also been installed in Chelmsford and Braintree, and it will soon be operational in Colchester as well.

Fighting crime cannot just be the responsibility of the police. It also requires the active co-operation of every citizen. Neighbourhood watch schemes have now spread into every village, street and community across the land. In Essex, we have 4,200 schemes involving many thousands of keen and enthusiastic members. In addition, we have schemes such as marine watch, farm watch, industrial watch and horse watch—and I shall not be at all surprised if we soon have pig watch and chicken watch schemes as well. That mobilisation of the public is having a tremendous effect in helping the police and in raising public confidence and their sense of security. The second influence on the level of crime is the punishment that the criminal can expect if caught. For too long, criminals thought that if they were caught a clever lawyer could get them off; that if they were under age they would simply be set free; that if they were convicted they would get no more than a fine or a ticking off; and that if they were sent to prison they would be let out again after having served no more than half their sentence.

It is hardly surprising that the public began to lose confidence in our criminal justice system. It is again to the credit of the present Home Secretary that he is taking action to put that right. Under the Government, we have seen an increasingly tough approach to serious crime. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 will be seen as a landmark—the point at which we stopped listening to those who worried about the rights of criminals and started to listen to the pleas of their victims.

The reform of the right to silence, the tightening of bail conditions and the power to give custodial sentences to juveniles were vital measures. The measures in this Session's Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill will help to reform the rules relating to disclosure which, at present, allow those who are guilty of some of the most serious offences to walk free.

The measures announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary in Blackpool to end the automatic early release of prisoners and to stop letting out criminals after serving only half their sentences will go a long way towards restoring the credibility of the criminal justice system and the public's confidence in it.

Crime is not excusable. The rise in crime is not inevitable. The Government have proved that by pursuing commonsense policies that are working. In my county, the number of recorded crimes fell by 7 per cent. last year. Vehicle crime was down by 10 per cent. and the number of burglaries dropped by 18 per cent. I am not complacent—the figures are still far too high. More still needs to be done, but the Government's approach is working and it deserves support.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)

In the 60 minutes available before the Front Bench winding-up speeches, four hon. Members hope to catch my eye. With a little co-operation, it should be possible for all of them to speak.

1 pm

Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)

May I say at the outset, if my voice will last for the short time that I intend to speak, that I apologise for not being present for the opening speeches? I submitted a note to Madam Speaker explaining that I would be at a constituency event that I could not miss. In fact, the event had some bearing on today's debate, which is part of the reason why I was very keen to return to make some comments.

I suspect that, throughout today's debate, the Government expect to hear some sort of congratulations on the fact that there have—apparently—been some reductions in the crime figures. I shall make two points about that. First, can we be absolutely sure that crime figures have fallen? Secondly, who is responsible for the fall?

A number of Labour Members have already said—and we will continue to repeat the fact—that crime has gone through the roof since 1979. While there might appear to have been some reduction in the past year, which indeed must be welcomed, the Government cannot be complacent about their record.

What do we understand from the crime figures? One of my great concerns—it affects many of my constituents—is the fear of crime, especially among women and the elderly, and increasingly among young people. Much credit for reductions in crime must go not to the Government but to the police. In London, of course, we have seen remarkable changes and a reduction in burglary rates as a result of targeted attempts such us Operation Bumblebee. That must be welcomed and commended, and credit must be given to the Metropolitan police.

Some of the apparent drop in crime is, however, due to the fear of women and elderly people. They are afraid to go out at night or to travel on trains or the tube because of the possibility of crime, and they avoid areas where they fear they might become victims. It is for that reason that prevention of crime is so important. I shall cite a number of examples of such prevention to show just how effective it has been.

I and a number of my colleagues in south-east London have been working over the years with British Rail—or Railtrack, or whatever it is called now, given that the Government keep slicing it up like pieces of bread—to make our stations safer. It is to the credit of Network SouthEast, for example, that, in collaboration with Lewisham council, a station very close to my home—in Hither Green—has been cleaned up, brightened up and made much more safe and pleasant to use.

As Crime Concern has said, we should be giving much more weight to the effect of the crime prevention measures that have been adopted by many local authorities in co-operation and in partnership with their local police forces.

In my constituency today, I spoke to a number of people including people from other local authority areas. I make no excuse for talking exclusively about south-east London because everyone recognises that south-east London has had a reputation, which has not always been justified, of being a high-crime area. It is an area where the councils and the police have worked together closely, not just to reduce crime, but to change the reputation.

In Greenwich, for example, the Labour council is working closely with the university of Greenwich to monitor and study areas where people feel unsafe. The university is carrying out a survey of its students close to the halls of residence to see what measures can be taken to make them feel safe. As I said earlier, even young people are fearful about going out at night nowadays. The university is studying improving street lighting and moving bus stops, if necessary, to make the area better. Those are practical, simple measures, but they will make a considerable difference to the quality of life of the community in Greenwich.

Since I was a councillor, I have always said that I have never understood why, when we have street lighting, we put the emphasis on lighting for cars and not for people. It is high time that we put the emphasis not only on the car on the road, but on the passer-by on the pavement.

In Croydon, the police are doing something rather dangerous. The council has invited young people to meet the local police and to tell them exactly what they think of them. It is brave of the local police to have taken that on board. They recognise that a number of young people, for whatever reason, distrust their local police. The mayor of Croydon said that at least people are now talking and beginning to break down the barriers between the police and young people. That too has been done by a Labour council in Croydon, which is working in partnership with the local police force.

Lewisham borough council has, for some time, been working in partnership with the local police and businesses to prevent crime. A community safety strategy was recently launched there by the Metropolitan commissioner, Paul Condon, and by my good friend the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). At the time, we expected the controversy to surround Paul Condon's comments about targeting young people who were felt to be involved in street crime, which is an important issue in Lewisham. As it happened, the controversy surrounded my hon. Friend's remarks about sorting out crime on the streets. I put on record the fact that, having listened to his speech, I can say that it was nothing like the interpretation that was put on it by some of the more so-called liberal newspapers. It was extremely well received by all the community leaders in Lewisham and I hope that the key measures my hon. Friend proposed will be put in place.

Like a few other councils, Lewisham has incorporated in its core responsibilities a duty of crime prevention. The Morgan report recommended such a measure to the Home Secretary and I am disappointed that he has seen fit to shelve the report. I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government are rethinking their views on the Morgan report and that they will give local authorities the duty of crime prevention. Certainly the next Labour Government will do just that.

Lewisham has an assistant director in each of its directorates who has responsibility for that core duty. That is why tenants are getting stronger doors, better locks and locks on windows, and why their estates are being refurbished. At minimal cost, a Lewisham direct team is installing security lights for tenants and other residents who ask for them.

The Government have been loud in their commendation of closed circuit television and about all the money that they are putting into it. We are all well aware of the effectiveness of CCTV in our town centres. Lewisham has three town centres which can benefit from it, but the sums so far provided have been minuscule. I hope that the Government will think seriously about increasing the funding in view of the enormous preventive effect that CCTV has had where it has been installed.

I want to make a special plea on behalf of Lewisham, because it is now able—uniquely—to download information about an incident in any of its three town centres to the police computer-aided dispatch room. There is nobody between the police and the incident—no one has to interpret the seriousness of the incident or the kind of response needed. That decision is left entirely to the police in the police station—the professionals. I hope that, when the Government next dole out the pennies for closed circuit television, they will agree that the unique experiment in Lewisham deserves at least as much support from the Government as is being given by the council and others.

The council and the local police are doing more than that. Through the curriculum, they are also tackling thè causes of crime. Last week, I had a most interesting experience at Launcelot school, in my constituency, where primary school children were being taught about drugs through drama and workshops led by a theatre group based in Deptford and Lewisham, Theatre Adad. They learnt not only about the health hazards, but about how drugs draw young people into criminal activity.

After the children have worked with the theatre group, the local police do follow-up work with them. We should all support and encourage such initiatives, but there is only a tiny amount in school budgets for it, and enormous cuts have been made in Government funding for the youth service. Unless the work with youngsters in primary schools can be developed through the youth service and in other ways, it might fall by the wayside. The Government cannot take credit with one hand and cut innovative schemes and partnerships with the other.

If we are to instil a conscience in young people about what is right and wrong, and about the hurt that they can cause by some of their actions, we must help them to understand that they live in a community and have responsibilities to others as well as receiving support from them. We can do that only through co-operation and partnership between the police and local authorities.

The selfish attitude that has grown up in many areas of life since 1979 is very much the responsibility of the Conservative Governments since that date. We would like to change that attitude. Only by instilling a sense of community and responsibility can we achieve a real reduction in the crime figures and, equally important, in the fear of crime.

1.13 pm
Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport)

I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) is not in the Chamber, because he refused to allow me to intervene in his speech to question him about his party conference's support for the legalisation of cannabis a couple of years ago. I am not surprised that he did not allow me to intervene; I think that he must have taken fright. I also deplore the way in which he dealt with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland)—but lack of time prevents me from pursuing that matter now. Never mind whether the Liberal Democrats support a royal commission or whatever—the fact is that the party conference voted to liberalise the drugs regime. I deplore that policy, and the fact that the party leadership took no action whatsoever in 1995 to rectify the decision made in 1994.

It is disappointing to look across the Chamber this afternoon. We see that there is little evidence of support for the subject of law and order from the Opposition. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) waves his arms about, but he has shot himself in both feet on a couple of occasions. Yesterday at business questions, the hon. Gentleman shot Pendle in the foot in dealing with a constituency problem. He should not have criticised the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the way that he did. He should understand that the Arabs work rather differently from people in the United Kingdom and the west. He should have taken the trouble to write to the Saudi ambassador. John Lee would not have made that mistake, and he would have properly looked after the interests of his constituents.

Mr. Gordon Prentice

This is a long-standing matter which has resulted in 50 redundancies in my constituency because the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would not pay for the bandages with which it had been supplied. I was just making a straightforward—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We must get back to the debate in question.

Mr. Banks

I am most grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wanted to be courteous to the hon. Gentleman, although I did not expect to mention that particular point. I think that the hon. Gentleman should write to the ambassador. That is the way in which a Member should deal with such a matter, not as the hon. Gentleman did. In doing so, he did a disservice to his constituency—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Hon. Members should react by taking instructions from the Chair.

Mr. Banks

The Conservative approach to the fight against crime is not all about what the Government alone can do, let alone the Home Secretary. It is about a partnership between the Government, the police, the courts and the people. It is about giving the police the resources and the statutory backing to catch criminals, and it is about the courts using the powers bestowed on them by the House. That is what we expect of the criminal justice system in this country and, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said, we should not rest until that ideal is reached.

We constantly hear from the Opposition about the 16 years that my party has been in office and about what has been achieved during that time. In law and order, we should be proud of the fact that there are 16,000 more police officers to protect us than in 1979. Recorded crime is down by 5 per cent. in the 12 months to June 1995, and includes 69,000 fewer burglaries and 130,000 fewer vehicle crimes. This is the largest 12-monthly fall for 40 years, and violent crime has decreased by 2 per cent. as well.

In the area including my constituency, 3,000 fewer offences have been committed since 1992—a decrease of about 13 per cent.—while the clear-up rate is 10 per cent. higher than the figure nationally. Indeed, offences recorded since 1979 in the metropolitan borough of Sefton have increased by 24 per cent., but that compares with 107 per cent. for the country as a whole. The statistics to which some hon. Members have referred in this debate show that the Government should take credit.

The law and order agenda is dominated by the Conservative party. A number of measures that the Government have introduced deserve special attention, and I believe that the measures introduced to prevent crime from occurring in the first place must be balanced by tough punishment for convicted criminals. In that light, the encouragement given to local people and businesses to work with the police—particularly in the "Partners Against Crime" initiative launched last year—will be instrumental in breaking down what I call the Sidney street tendency in the fight against crime. The Sidney street tendency—as the historians among us will recall—refers to what Mr. Churchill did when he was Home Secretary in 1910. Sadly, I do not have the time to explain to non-historians what that means.

The Home Secretary and his Front-Bench colleagues simply cannot be in all places at once—as Mr. Churchill tried to be in 1910. In my constituency, much good work is done by local citizens through home watch schemes, the safer cities scheme and local drug prevention teams. The provisions in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to refuse bail more frequently are similarly helpful in preventing crime.

Public confidence has been shaken in recent years by the seeming inability of the police to convict the guilty in some cases. Wrong, it seems, too often wins by technicalities. Wrong must not win by technicalities. Where that has been due to the scales of justice leaning towards the defence, the Government have been careful to redress the balance. I refer in particular to the reform of the right to silence and the prospective changes to defence disclosure contained in the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill.

As the Government confirmed in the autumn, they are determined to punish criminals for their crimes, and imprisonment is the key to that. It is clear that the threat of prison and the confinement of criminals in prison reduces crime. During the past two and a half years, the prison population has increased by almost 10,000; during the past two years, recorded crime has fallen by 10 per cent. As the chief constable of Lancashire, Pauline Clare—who was mentioned earlier in the debate—said, there is no doubt that the fear of imprisonment is an extremely effective deterrent and certainly protects the public from habitual offenders. That is why I am firmly in favour of those who commit a second serious sexual and violent offence being sentenced to life imprisonment. That is why stiff minimum sentences should be introduced for persistent burglars and dealers in hard drugs. That is why prisoners who behave themselves should get no more than cursory time off and those who do not behave should serve their full sentences.

There is the matter of bobbies on the beat. The extra funding that has been found for 5,000 additional police officers over the next three years—including £20 million for the first 1,000 officers and a further £160 million for the rest—is to be welcomed. My constituency at the moment—until I have sorted out that little local difficulty—comes under Merseyside. It is a boost for it to receive another £6.8 million, which will enable it to take on another 28 officers. I can only hope that that money will result in a greater police presence on the streets and will not, as some recent reports have suggested, be diverted to fund more computers, civilians or radios. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary can reassure me on that point.

High-visibility policing is more than purely symbolic. If criminals see more policemen on our streets, it must provide a deterrent effect. I agree with Baroness Thatcher, who said that the only way to diminish crime is to diminish the threat of crime.

There has been a great deal of scaremongering in Merseyside recently about possible cuts. Much of it has been initiated through a leaflet produced by the Merseyside police authority. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for listening so carefully to my representations on behalf of literally thousands of constituents. The Government have proved their commitment to law and order by the real increase in Merseyside's funding for next year and through the changed capping criteria. I believe that the Merseyside police force is determined to reduce crime even further and the Government are helping with that.

As I said earlier, tougher sentences for criminals must be balanced by more consideration for their victims. In that light, the Government accepted all the recommendations of the Royal Commission on criminal justice relating to victims, including improving facilities at courts and keeping victims informed of the progress of their cases. The increased provision for the criminal injuries compensation scheme and the already generous funding for Victim Support also show the current priority being given to victims by this Conservative Government.

The partnership approach towards law and order is, as I said earlier, the key to winning the fight against crime. The measures to which I have referred and others mentioned earlier are very much part of the far-reaching reforms in which the Government are engaged. The coherent policy to which my right hon. Friend the Minister referred earlier is designed to achieve a partnership to tackle crime more effectively. Yet what support have my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and his colleagues received from the Labour party? Very little. Quite frankly, one or two of the comments made earlier in the debate bordered on the comical.

The policy of the Labour party still seems to be that all crime is the natural accompaniment to poverty; that because people are poor, they can be excused their trespasses. That ignores the issue of personal responsibility, which in my view has always seemed to be a dirty word to Labour Members.

Mr. Michael

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Banks

That lack of responsibility has characterised their years in government over the past three decades.

Mr. Michael


Mr. Banks

I would genuinely like to give way to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), but he spoke for 42 minutes and will be able to speak for longer in his winding-up speech than I will be able to do now.

Mr. Michael

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Has the hon. Gentleman the right to peddle total inaccuracies and mislead the House by ignoring the facts that were put forward earlier in the debate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

No hon. Member has the right to mislead the House, but nothing that I have heard the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) say has misled the House, as far as I am aware.

Mr. Banks

I am most grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Labour party, as my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) said earlier, has voted against many of the measures that the Government have introduced in recent years and, in particular, it has failed to support the prevention of terrorism legislation. It is not just the Labour party. The Liberal Democrats are just as guilty.

In the few minutes that I have left, I want to conclude by dealing not with the negative remarks of Opposition Members but with a significant point. "Responsibility prevents crimes", wrote Burke in his "Reflections on the French Revolution". That is as true now as it was then.

This debate should not be just about what the Government can do to tackle crime on our street; it should be about every responsible person taking his or her share of responsibility for the general escalation of crime and violence in our society. There will not be enough gaols, policemen or courts to enforce the law if it is not supported by the people.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench have responded, and will respond, to remarks made in the debate not only here today but as it continues. They can enable the police to catch more criminals, empower the courts to give hoodlums and thugs their just deserts and provide the framework for citizens to group together in neighbourhood watch schemes and other projects. They cannot bring up people's children to be responsible or to be role models to the impressionable. They cannot be everywhere all the time. What the Government have been able to do in the fight against crime, they have done and are doing, with little political support from the Labour party. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and his colleagues at the Home Office on the leadership that they are showing in doing just that.

1.27 pm
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

I am grateful for the opportunity of contributing a short speech to this vital debate. I have been interested in law and order issues, and been campaigning on them, ever since I was elected to Parliament. I held three public meetings in my constituency on the single issue of law and order. I have been out with the police force in my constituency, visited the courts and Strangeways, Lancaster Farm and Preston prisons and talked to justices of the peace. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), responded earlier in the year to an Adjournment debate I had on crime in the Ribble valley.

The fact that I represent a rural constituency, where the incidence of crime is less than in many urban constituencies, does not mean that each crime perpetrated in a rural area is not significant to victims of those crimes. There have been dramatic increases in crime in rural areas over the past few years.

The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) said that increasing crime since 1979 is obviously the fault of the Government. The fact is that crime has been increasing in the western world since the second world war. In recent years, the drop in crime has been to the credit of the Government because the measures that have been introduced are proving effective. The message that should go from the House today should be that the measures and the approach to crime of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary must continue. This is no time to go soft on crime.

We have heard that the fear of crime is far greater than the incidence of it. That means that we must take extra measures to ensure that that fear is reduced. We have heard about several such measures today, including those aimed at greater crime prevention. We should also pay special regard not only to the police, who do such a tremendous job protecting us from criminals, but to the specials. I do not believe that they have been mentioned, but they make a valuable contribution to combating crime. I hope that more citizens will take the opportunity, if they have the spare time, to ensure that they contribute towards hitting back at the criminals. We should also congratulate those involved in neighbourhood watch schemes, of which there are 1,632 in Lancashire. That is superb.

The presence of operational police stations is also important. It is quite appalling that Clitheroe police station is closed from 10 pm until 8 am. I have yet to see any proof that that closure means that the people of Clitheroe are better protected than they were when the police station remained open. In future, I hope that that policy will be reversed so that we have a 24-hour police station in Clitheroe. Many imaginative means could be adopted to reopen that station, for example, it could be manned by a civilian. At the moment it is not good enough that, at night, people have to rely on the telephone box outside the police station from which they can ring for help from someone in Colne.

I also congratulate the Lancashire partnership, which has proved tremendously successful. That partnership includes Lancashire police, the local authorities—including Preston and Ribble Valley—and businesses as well. We did not need the law to state that businesses should get involved and contribute financially, and in other ways, to ensure the existence of that partnership—those businesses wanted to be involved. That partnership does not just include big businesses such as 3M, British Aerospace and Castle Cement, but many small businesses such as Gibbon Bridge hotel of Chipping and Syd Brown's of Longridge. They are all involved in the fight against crime in Lancashire.

That partnership demonstrates that everyone wants to get involved in tackling lawlessness within our society. All those businesses should be congratulated on their contribution, which means that far more is done to tackle crime than would otherwise be the case. The partnership has successfully provided 14 cars for the Lancashire specials to go about their duties. That is an excellent boost and shows what can be achieved through the initiative of such partnerships.

Operation Christmas Cracker has been mentioned in the debate. Lancashire police did not get involved in it, and I telephoned to find out exactly why. In fact, Lancashire leads the way in such operations, as it does in so many other ways, because it launched its own operation, Operation Castle, on 28 November. That resulted in 309 arrests and the recovery of £100,000 worth of stolen property, including £35,000 worth of antiques. I congratulate the police on that initiative. The public would like to see far more of those operations, which raise the profile of the police. They also demonstrate clearly to criminals that they must be on the look-out for such operations. That is superb.

I welcomed the installation of closed circuit television cameras in Clitheroe. The hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) said that the Government were spending just pennies on such schemes, but they have spent £15 million. The fact that the hon. Lady describes such expenditure as "pennies" demonstrates what we would face if there were a Labour Government—the expenditure of millions of pounds would be dismissed as "pennies". The Government deserve to be congratulated on that extra expenditure.

Clitheroe will benefit from the installation of those cameras. The Home Secretary attended the opening of that system in September, but it is somewhat disappointing to note that because of installation complications, the cameras have not been fully operational since then. The local authority has now sacked the contractor and has appointed someone else to get the cameras operating. I call on all those involved to get a move on so that the cameras are made fully operational and protect local people. They have proved successful in the other places where CCTV has been installed, including King's Lynn, where there was a 97 per cent. decrease in theft from cars in car parks in which those cameras were installed.

Let us hope that we can get those cameras operational as soon as possible, not only in Clitheroe. Many other places might benefit from the installation of those cameras. Longridge, another village in my constituency, is desperate to get cameras installed and to win some money to pay for them. I hope that we can do something there.

Amazingly, civil liberties groups say that those cameras are a terrible intrusion into the public's privacy. That is tosh. I know that we have had the problem of the sale of video-tapes from CCTV cameras, and I hope that that seedy little business is stopped. Nevertheless, those cameras protect ordinary citizens. I believe that ordinary citizens have civil liberties as well as people from fringe organisations. I fully endorse the installation of those cameras—we want more of them—but the use of the video-tapes from them must be controlled.

Mrs. Bridget Prentice

I say "pennies" because, in comparison to the amount of money that is lost to local businesses as a result of theft and so on, the amount of money that has been put into CCTV has been pennies. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree with that.

Secondly, will the hon. Gentleman join me in supporting the unique position in Lewisham, which I described, where the video goes directly to the police station and the police make the decision about what is done?

Mr. Evans

I am grateful for that intervention, and I am sure that the hon. Lady would welcome the Government's initiative. It is £15 million.

Early in his speech, I gave the hon. Member for Pendle an opportunity to tell me how much extra money a Labour Government would provide for policing on the streets, but I did not receive a straight answer. Extra money and resources have been provided for law and order. They are proving to be extremely successful. That is why we must carry on with the Government's current policies.

We need more police on the beat. They are effective. They are an effective deterrent. In rural areas, especially villages, one tends to find that the police officer comes from that community and knows several of the people in the district so that, if someone who is strange or from outside the district passes through the village, they tend to know about it. I suspect that neighbourhood watch or rural or farm watch were invented in the Ribble valley because people tend to know what is going on in the area and, if anything strange happens, they can at least alert the authorities and try to put a stop to it. It is essential that we have more police on the beat, especially in rural districts. I made my representations to Pauline Clare, who has featured greatly in the debate, that the extra resources that are made available to the police authority should not necessarily be spent on more equipment, but should be used to provide extra police, especially in rural areas. That is essential.

Therefore, I was delighted when, in the Budget, an increase of 5.1 per cent. was announced. I hope, irrespective of what the hon. Member for Pendle said, that Pauline Clare takes the opportunity to get those extra resources into manpower. I also hope that extra attention is paid to the civilianisation of some of the posts in Lancashire. Although 160 posts have been civilianised since 1985, it has been noticed that there is scope for at least 310 more. Something needs to be done about that urgently.

Punishment and discipline are vital. We have heard a lot this morning about prisons and the question, "Do prisons work?" Of course prisons work and, yes, we have more prisoners in Britain's prisons today than was the case 15 years ago. We should make no apologies for that because the system is working. I have toured three prisons in my constituency, having a look at the good work that is done there.

I was interested to hear the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) that burglars should go to prison even on their first conviction. We need to consider that seriously, because it is not as though people accidentally break into people's homes and steal from them. We should seriously consider a policy, especially in the case of serious thefts, of ensuring that people receive a custodial sentence in the first instance. As the Home Secretary said at the party conference, if people do not want to go to prison, they simply should not commit crimes.

I was delighted when the Government took action to prevent some young offenders from being sent abroad on character building holidays; it was outrageous—a slap in the face of every victim of crime in this country—and the last thing that we wanted. I am delighted that, instead of those holiday camps abroad, we are now introducing boot camps which will instil into young people the discipline that they do not receive at home and, unfortunately, do not seem to receive in some of our schools. It must he instilled in them that there is a difference between right and wrong, and that if they do something wrong, they will receive the punishment that they richly deserve.

I congratulate the Home Secretary on introducing harsher, stiffer and longer sentences for those who perpetrate crime. When offenders are in prison, they cannot be out in the streets perpetrating crime, and the public support our policy 100 per cent. Last year I sent out a "Westminster Viewpoint" leaflet to my constituents asking them for their ideas on crime. A constant theme ran through the responses that I received: people want offenders to be given longer and stiffer sentences. An austere regime in our prisons has to he welcomed.

I hope that the Home Secretary carries on with his vigorous regime to ensure that we have the right policies to tackle crime and that the police have our full support, not simply through numbers and pay, which was so drastically cut under the last Labour Government, but through the provision of the necessary armaments and body armour. The police should be equipped with side-handled batons, the introduction of which I supported because I believe that it is right to provide the police with protection while they protect us. I hope that the Home Secretary does not give in to the soft ideas of some of those who may be advising him, whether civil servants or Opposition Members. We have the right policies to tackle crime and we should continue to use those policies in future to protect the citizens of Britain.

1.41 pm
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

I congratulate the Government on their enormous commitment to reducing crime, which they have demonstrated by increasing resources and showing tremendous will and determination. It seems ironic that, despite being an increasingly prosperous society, many people are still drawn to crime.

I take a strong line against those who try to link people in the lowest bracket of the economy to crime and to say that poverty breeds criminal records. That is not true. It is an insult to those who may be at the bottom of the economic pile but who are highly law-abiding. We should consider the reasons for crime and its role in society as a whole.

We must consider the stability of the family. There is much evidence drawn from various quarters to show that broken families create a climate in which children turn to crime. Homes where parents are not married and do not have a commitment to each other or to their children do not provide the stability and security in which children can blossom and flourish. Instead, the children often become the victims of parental chaos and, ultimately, they become young criminals.

We should carefully consider the way in which we convey the moral ethos of society in our schools. It is vital that young people should be taught clearly the difference between right and wrong; they should be taught to respect those in authority—not only their teachers and headteachers, but the police. I welcome the fact that many schools are generous in giving the police time to come and talk to the young people, but I regret that there are blackspots where there is still considerable hostility to inviting police into schools.

I pay great tribute to the police. Their work in the community has been magnificent and they deserve all our respect and support.

May I digress for a moment to pay a special tribute to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which paid a heavy price during the troubles, when 297 police officers were killed and 7,300 were injured? It has carried on undaunted, with total dedication and commitment. It is a salutary fact that now, after a year of the ceasefire, people in the Roman Catholic community are beginning to join the police force, which they never dared to do in the past.

I commend the fact that the Government are committed to providing extra resources to pay for 5,000 more police officers, in addition to the thousands who have already been brought on stream. There will he 4,000 more prison places to support our "tough on crime" policies and we are providing resources for 10,000 more closed circuit television cameras. I also commend the Government for increasing spending on combating crime by £238 million for England and Wales. That is a 4 per cent. increase, so nobody can accuse the Government of being half-hearted. It is not just a matter of being tough on crime. We must ensure that we are effective in combating crime. I can speak from the experience in my constituency of Sutton. As a result of the enormously wide-ranging measures that have been introduced, crime is down in all parts of my constituency. Burglary and car crime are down and high-street crime has been reduced by the introduction of closed circuit television.

The people of Sutton can walk in our high streets morning, noon and night knowing that they will not be assaulted. There has been an enormous increase in confidence. Crime has fallen by 35 per cent., which is greatly to the credit of the police force.

Closed circuit television is providing an effective deterrent. As the cameras are linked to the police stations 24 hours a day, an intruder, burglar or miscreant can be spotted immediately. The local police station can be telephoned in a jiffy and the police are on the spot right away. That is how we have managed to clear out the thuggery of recent years. Burglars now know that Sutton is not a soft touch and they move elsewhere.

Closed circuit televisions have not only pushed the burglars out of town but have given local businesses tremendous confidence. Businesses now report increased trade. With CCTV monitoring the shops and streets, requests have been made for their installation in non-commercial sites such as bus stops, outside the local post office or in the pedestrian underpass, where people feel vulnerable. Overall, I admire the Government's determination in putting such a deterrent in place.

As we approach Christmas, it is wise and right that the public should be put on the alert to protect their homes. Christmas is when burglars are out. They know that families stock up their homes with precious parcels, and that can be an attraction. Therefore, it is important that people are scrupulous in their domestic security measures.

Other steps can be taken. For instance, retailers could mark goods—particularly those that are highly attractive to burglars such as videos, televisions and mobile telephones—with the local post code. If that is done, whenever property is recovered by the police, they can return it to its rightful owners. We should encourage the photographing of personal jewellery, antiques and pictures. Photographs can be matched by computer, which makes it more likely than ever before that the public will be able to regain property that they thought had been lost for ever.

Juvenile crime hits every area of the country. Sutton has achieved a degree of notoriety because of the Sutton burglar posse—an active group of youngsters who have become lawless and persistent offenders. It seemed that nothing could be done to bring them under control. The Government have taken on board the importance of combating juvenile crime and have made a commitment to provide more secure places for young offenders. I hope that the Minister will be able to make a progress report on the building of secure training centres. In the interregnum, the country will be short of secure places for juveniles. While that continues, lawless youngsters will be put back into foster care or children's homes, or returned to their own homes, only to go out and reoffend. I urge the Government to maintain the momentum. What steps are they taking to make more secure places for juveniles available in the meantime?

The good news is that the focus on juvenile crime has prompted a much greater rapport between the law enforcement agencies and social services. Traditionally, there was a stand-off. Social services felt that every child was innocent and just needed gentle rehabilitation, and others felt that they were hostile to co-operating. As realism has set in, there is genuine co-operation in trying to tackle an intractable problem.

Drugs are a menace to society. I congratulate the Government on their determination to tackle that difficult issue. I am full of admiration for the parents of Leah Betts, who bravely went public about their daughter's tragedy. We must build on that. Drug education has a crucial part to play in combating the curse of drug-ridden societies, not just in this country but throughout the developed world. I congratulate the Government on spending £500 million on drug education programmes. I have seen the success of the youth awareness programme in my constituency, which is now run in all local schools. That is a step in the right direction and society will ultimately benefit.

I offer one word of caution to Opposition Members who like to experiment with wild and extreme ideas, such as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short), who said that she was in favour of decriminalising drugs, and Liberal Democrats who have adopted the same position. That is deeply dangerous, because it gives drug abuse credibility when young people need guidance and a firm steer in developing their lives—and that is not down the road of drugs.

When I leave the Chamber, I will visit Downview prison, which has the most successful drug rehabilitation programme in the country. I am pleased to announce that it is the first prison in the United Kingdom that is entirely drug free. That has been achieved with the support of the Government, who have poured thousands of pounds into the programme, which is now showing its benefits. It means that prisoners coming out of gaol will be freed of the terrible curse of a craving for drugs and a craving to go out and commit more crimes. They will now be able to return to society as human beings with respect, and will, I hope, be able to provide for others.

We must all work together in trying to combat crime: the Government must give a lead, and society must back them up. I am very proud that we are all working together in that regard.

1.55 pm
Ms Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen)

I remind the House, and the Minister in particular, that the subject of the debate is the Government's record on crime. We must ask ourselves, if that record is as successful as Conservative Members have been implying, why there is the need for another crime Bill.

The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), in a rather predictable speech, reaffirmed his commitment to castration and hanging. He admitted that his constituents looked to the Government to provide security for them and that they were scared of crime—no wonder, because in his constituency recorded crime alone has increased by 44 per cent. since 1979.

The hon. and Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) spoke about crime in his constituency, especially rural crime. The House will be interested to know that the charity, Action with Communities in Rural England, recently found that rural crime is rising, while the number of village police officers and regular patrols is declining. The paper concluded that

the apparent absence of visible police protection in many communities adds to the fear of crime". Again, in the hon. Gentleman constituency, recorded crime has risen by a staggering 165 per cent. since 1979.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) referred to a subject that is very dear to my heart. It is proposed to close the local police station at night in part of his constituency. We had a similar proposal in Darwen, in my constituency, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope), with reference to the police station at Great Harwood. I am pleased to say that we in Darwen were able, with the help of Councillor Derek Brindle, to resist the proposal and have saved the police station there. It will now be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as is the police station in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn, thanks to his efforts. I wish my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle every success in his campaign to safeguard his police station. I am sure that he will succeed.

I note that the hon. Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Whittingdale) is a Dr. Who fan. If he were to take advantage of Dr. Who's time machine and went back to 1979, he would find that since then recorded crime has risen by 88 per cent., even in his constituency. He also said that he expected more Opposition Members to be present for today's debate. This is a Government debate; it was not initiated by the Opposition. The Conservatives could not afford to get it wrong today, because the previous Government-initiated debate was on the subject of earnings top-up. According to the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People:

The purpose of the debate this morning is to enable the House to take note of the rules that the Government propose for a new benefit, earnings top-up, which is to be introduced on a pilot basis … in eight areas of the country. The plans for the pilot were published in July … entitled, 'Piloting Change in Social Security—Helping People into Work' .—[Official Report, 24 November 1995; Vol. 267, c. 876.]

Lady Olga Maitland

What has this got to do with crime?

Ms Anderson

I am talking about the Government's record on Adjournment debates, and during that debate on the important issue of getting people back to work, only one Conservative Member was present—the Minister.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) referred eloquently to the fear of crime, which is a particular problem for women. I shall deal with that issue later. She rightly gave credit to the police for reductions in crime.

The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Banks), in a rather confusing speech, initially referred to Saudi Arabia rather than concentrating on crime in his constituency, but I see from the Register of Members' Interests that he has a particular interest in that area.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), whose constituency I know well since it is very close to mine, was quite right when he said that he has long had an interest in this subject. So he should, because recorded crime in his constituency has risen by 116 per cent. since 1979. He referred especially to a debate in May, which he initiated, during which he talked about crime in his constituency. He revealed that 87 per cent. of people in Ribble Valley who had responded to his survey said that they wanted identity cards, and he pressed the Minister to introduce them.

Indeed, in April there was an article in The Observer about that very issue. The headline said:

Major plays ID card to trump Blair". The article said:

A Number 10 source said it was a question of how they were to be introduced—not whether. I wonder what happened to that idea.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) made a rather predictable and confusing speech, which seemed to indicate that she was not terribly happy. Her speech seemed to be an admission of the Government's failure all the way along the line. I must say to the hon. Lady that my constituents are not terribly bothered about having their antiques burgled, because very few of them are able to enjoy that particular hobby.

In the hon. Lady's constituency, recorded crime since 1979 has risen by 64 per cent. It is no wonder that, apparently, in 1991, after the hon. Lady's agent had resigned, Labour activists picketed the Tory meeting fearing that she would be dropped as their opponent.

The Home Secretary and his Ministers are very fond of boasting that their policies are reducing crime, but that claim needs to be treated with some scepticism. One by one, the Tories' traditional electoral advantages have been eroded. The voters no longer trust them to run the economy or to keep taxes down. Now the Tories have even lost their opinion-poll lead on law and order.

In 1992, during the election campaign, Labour was ahead in the polls on most policies, but when MORI asked voters which party had the best policy on law and order, the Tories were ahead by 40 per cent. to 26 per cent. By July this year, the position had been almost reversed. Labour was scoring 29 per cent. for the same question against the Tories' 23 per cent. As a recent article in The Economist pointed out,

the Tories have lost the voters' confidence on law and order less because of New Labour rhetoric than because of the facts". Crime has risen relentlessly while the Conservative party has been in government, and the voters have noticed. Just as it appeared that the political argument on law and order was lost, the Government found a new weapon: the crime statistics. In 1993–94, recorded crime fell by 5 per cent., and the more recent figures showed a similar drop.

Any drop is of course to be welcomed, but why is it happening? The Government claim that their tougher penal policies deserve the credit, but if that is true, why did similar policies fail to stop the rise in crime in the early 1980s? In fact, there are plenty of other explanations, which, sadly for the Government, carry more credence.

Demographics may have something to do with it. Crimes are mostly committed by men aged between 15 and 24. The number of men in that age group is falling rapidly—from 4.5 million in 1989 to 4 million in 1993. The fewer youths around who may be disposed towards criminal activities, the fewer crimes will be committed. The police prefer to think, with some justification, that any fall in crime is down to them. Some police forces, as the Minister said, especially those in crime-ridden inner cities, have been thinking hard about new methods of dealing with crime. Business has been doing its bit too. The rise in car crime has led manufacturers to add security features to new vehicles. As car crime accounts for almost a quarter of all recorded crime—it fell by 10 per cent. between 1993 and 1994—the security features accounted for half the drop in the total crime figure for which Ministers are always ready to take credit.

As I have said, we welcome any reduction in crime, but do the figures tell the whole truth? Figures from the latest "British Crime Survey", which has replaced the general household survey as a record of criminal activity, suggest, for example, that crime rose by 18 per cent. between 1991 and 1993, while the police recorded a rise of only 7 per cent. Insurance may account for some of the discrepancy. Insurance is increasingly expensive and sometimes unavailable for people living in the worst-hit areas. For them, the incentive to report has dropped sharply. We can argue until the cows come home about statistics and, no doubt, Conservative Members will seek to do just that, but they dodge the real question. The real question was put in an article in the Daily Mail in April this year, a paper not known for its support for the Labour party. It said:

We have been told this week that recorded crime fell by 5 per cent. in England and Wales last year, according to official figures. But does anyone actually feel any safer? That is the real question.

House of Commons Library research shows that the risk of becoming a victim of burglary and violence has risen threefold since 1979. Real crime has shown a record increase in the past 16 years. There is no doubt that crime and the fear of crime are damaging the lives of individuals and communities everywhere. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East said in her excellent speech, for women the fear of crime is especially strong. All studies show that women are especially afraid, notably single women who live by themselves. Some 49 per cent. of women have admitted that they feel unsafe when walking alone after dark near where they live.

According to recent research, one person in five now carries some form of protection in case of attack when leaving home. More than one person in four has given up using public transport or walking any distance because they are frightened of being attacked. Almost nine out of 10 people feel that the likelihood of becoming a victim of crime has increased over the past 10 years. Some 21 per cent. say that they never venture into certain streets or areas, which is surely an indication that Britain is starting to become like the United States, with people regarding parts of their inner cities as no-go areas. Those are the results of a poll undertaken by MORI and broadcast on "The Fear Factor" which was part of Channel 4's "Battered Britain" series.

A recent Leicester university research study reveals that shoppers are deserting the high streets for shopping malls because they fear crime and because they feel threatened by beggars, drunks and vagrants in town centres.

Blackburn and district Age Concern, which covers part of my constituency, recently produced a survey on the fear of crime among the elderly. The survey had two aims: to find out whether the elderly were more or less worried about crime and to find out whether the elderly were more worried about crime than younger age groups were. It showed that fear of being a victim of crime ranked high among matters of concern to the elderly. All groups in the survey were very afraid of being burgled.

The study also looked at the effect of the rift between perception and reality. It concluded that a fortress mentality could develop. Advised to seek protection through improved security within their homes, the elderly retreat into them. Visitors are greeted with suspicion, the door is not opened even to friends after teatime and a departure from home is a dangerous adventure, certainly not to be embarked on after dark. Age Concern found that when the elderly shut themselves away from human contact, the ability of Age Concern, the social services and other agencies to help them was reduced.

A report published by the Home Office in 1989 found that going out alone after dark in a dilapidated inner-city area and bumping into people who have been drinking may, along with many other things, induce or reinforce fear of crime. The report concluded that "fear reduction" must enjoy a much higher priority in action against crime by the Government. That was in 1989, and we are still waiting.

What has been the cost of that ostrich-like approach by the Government? The criminal justice system now costs every taxpayer £422 a year, and £10 million-worth of property is stolen every day. More than half of all households are not insured against loss. The cost of house and car insurance rose by more than 20 per cent. in real terms between 1988 and 1992. The cost per household of retail crime is £120 a year, the risk of becoming a victim of home burglary or of a crime of violence trebled between 1979 and 1994, and the chance of becoming a victim of car crime doubled.

Those figures show the reality of crime under the Conservative Government. The Tories may boast of a recent reduction in recorded crime, but even at the rate of last year's reduction, it will be 15 years before crime returns to the level at which it stood when the Labour Government were in office.

Crime has risen relentlessly. Every Conservative Member represents a constituency in which recorded crime has increased since 1979. Crime in the constituency of the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), has increased by 112 per cent. since 1979, and crime in the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope), has increased by 118 per cent. over the same period.

Finally, may I bring my remarks to a close?

Lady Olga Maitland

Certainly; the hon. Lady has not said anything much.

Ms Anderson

At least I have never had my constituency party meetings picketed by members of the Tory party who hope that I will be reselected.

I shall finish by reminding the House of the former Tory public relations chief, Mr. Hugh Col ver, whom the Tories would probably like to forget. As we know, he resigned because he had had enough of the Tories, and he said: What they wanted was a political propagandist; someone who would argue that everything the other side say is rubbish, their people are rubbish, and everything we say is wonderful, and our people are wonderful. I believe that the level of debate should he higher than that. I invite the Minister to take up the suggestion made by Brian Mackenzie, chair of the Police Superintendents Association, who said: Law and order should not be a party political issue. In an ideal world there would be consensus on how these issues should be tackled, so it is encouraging to see Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition addressing them. We welcome the proposals by Jack Straw, the Shadow Home Secretary, to deal with criminal and intimidating neighbours by a new 'community safety order', with new powers of eviction. This seems an eminently sensible suggestion and we hope you will feel able to work with the Opposition in developing it". I hope that the Minister will respond to that idea.

2.12 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Timothy Kirkhope)

I welcome the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Ms Anderson) to her Front-Bench responsibilities today, although I cannot say that I agree with much of what she said. In fact, I am not sure whether she said much at all.

The hon. Lady began by trying to correct us on the title of the debate, but that title is not what she said; it is "The Government's policy against crime". I am proud to have become a member of the crusading Home Office team which is determined to continue our fight against crime and the great successes that we are now having in curbing crime in this country.

It is nonsense for so many Labour Members—although perhaps I should not say "so many", because there were only one or two of them—to talk about the Government's record when they have not answered the simple questions that many hon. Members, including myself, have raised about several Acts and other legislation that they have failed to support—for no good reason, other than perhaps to give the impression that, despite what they are trying to tell us now, they are rather soft on crime. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State said at the beginning of his speech that crime is of the utmost importance to everyone. We are all potential victims of crime at any time, and we have to be ready to meet the challenge.

I was interested to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), followed by the remarks from my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Whittingdale) and for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), about the causes of crime. The Labour party goes on about the causes of crime, but there are an awful lot of people in society who—for one reason or another—have problems and disadvantages from time to time, but they do not offend. Research carried out on a number of occasions—including a recent Home Office study which compared changes in reported crime rates in different police force areas with changes in unemployment rates—has found no evidence whatsoever of a relationship.

Mr. Gordon Prentice

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Kirkhope

No, I will not give way as I have very little time. Coming from the north-east of England, I have been told on many occasions—I was not around at the time—about the history of the Jarrow march all those years ago. Those people did not resort to crime. There is no need to resort to crime, and no evidence that unemployment causes crime. I wish that the Labour party would stop trying to think up excuses for people who arè basically bad or evil and who do commit crimes. They have to be dealt with firmly by this Government without the support of the Labour party.

I believe that our objectives for dealing with law and order are widely shared by the people of this country, and we are making steady progress towards them. Whatever the Opposition may say, recorded crime levels have fallen remarkably in recent times, but that is by no means our sole objective. We have listened to the concerns of those at the sharp end of the fight against crime and to their views on how we as a Government should respond to their concerns.

The simple fact is that we will never let up in our resolve to fight crime. Thousands of people up and down the country have from time to time their lives blighted by crime, whether a serious or petty crime. It does not have to be this way. Local communities in partnership with local police, for instance, can act to do something really positive. Indeed, many already do.

We have heard discussions in this debate about closed circuit television. I found it extraordinary—as did my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans)—that the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) talked about the "pennies" we have contributed to closed circuit television schemes. My hon. Friend reminded her that we have just announced that £15 million is to be spent on projects from 1996 to 1997.

Mr. Maclean

Labour used to oppose that scheme.

Mr. Kirkhope

Indeed. We have already spent £5 million in 1995, and it is not just about money from Government. In addition, funding from partnership schemes with the private sector could mean that those moneys could be tripled as we try to bring CCTV to our people.

Mrs. Bridget Prentice

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Kirkhope

No, I will not. All that we hear from some Opposition Members—although these arguments have been to some extent stifled by the Labour leadership—are arguments about human rights and about the difficulty of installing CCTV schemes. I went to the Newcastle west end scheme recently, and I was deeply impressed by the way it is operated by the police there. As my right hon. Friend said earlier, the scheme has 16 cameras which deal with all kinds of situations. The scheme is cutting crime dramatically in percentage terms.

I want a CCTV scheme in my constituency—hint, hint—and we are going to bid for one. I am delighted that on this occasion the local authority has been kind enough to co-operate with me and with the police to try to bring this about. That is sometimes the way it ought to be. I remind the Opposition that co-operation is a two-way thing. CCTV, when properly used, can contribute to the prevention and the investigation of crime and to a reduction in the fear of crime. We have now seen that the schemes will be successful, and that is why the Government are so keen to develop CCTV.

We have heard today—it has been said many times before—that children must be taught the difference between right and wrong. I was interested to hear the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), who has a particular way of putting things across. I do not think that some of the things that he was suggesting will be immediately a part of the Government's plans. However, I admire him for his attitude towards parental responsibility. There is no substitute for getting things right in the first place, which means teaching our children the importance of accepting responsibility for their own actions. If we fail to do that, can we really be surprised if they display growing disrespect for the law? Respect must also be taught in our schools, but the priority lies with parents.

I am delighted that the Government have made parents more responsible, obliging them to attend court with their children when some penalty is being considered. We should examine that approach in more detail because parents should not be able to avoid responsibility, especially for young children.

I want to say a word or two about youth crime. The best indicator of youth crime is the number of young people cautioned by the police or convicted by the courts. The figures show that young offenders account for 16 per cent. of all known offenders. Although there have been reductions in the overall number of known juvenile offenders in recent years, a small number is responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime.

The majority of juvenile offenders are cautioned by the police. Research shows that almost 50 per cent. of those are not convicted of another offence in the following two years, which is encouraging. However, for those juvenile offenders who are necessarily brought before the courts, the Government's policy is to ensure that a range of penalties is available, so that both the seriousness of the offence and the characteristics of the young offender can be taken into account.

The courts have powers to ensure that parents take responsibility for their children's offending. Not only can the courts require parents to attend court, but they can require them to pay the children's fines and they can bind over the parents to look after their children properly. I hope that the courts will use those powers as much as possible, in appropriate circumstances, and certainly more than they do at present.

The maximum sentence for detention in a young offenders institution for 15 to 17-year-olds convicted of an imprisonable offence has been doubled by the Government to two years. The courts have been given powers to detain 10 to 13-year-olds convicted of certain grave crimes for periods up to the adult maximum. As we all know, the Government are introducing new powers for the courts to deal with those persistent young offenders whom I mentioned. The new sentence of a secure training order will deal with 12 to 14-year-old persistent offenders, who can he held in security.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam asked about training centres. As she will know, we have proposed five training centres. Two are well under way, with tendering for contracts now proceeding. We have planning permission for a third. The fourth, I regret to say, has been delayed due to planning slowness by a district council in the north-east. We are looking for a fifth site. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that we are making progress and. as soon as possible, the centres will be on stream and available to deal with the persistent group of young offenders who must be taken out of society for a time.

As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State made clear at the beginning of the debate, the fall in recorded crime of 5 per cent., or 260,000 crimes, is a result from which we should all take heart. Far from being complacent about that success, as is sometimes suggested by Labour Members, the Government are determined to carry forward the measures that have been outlined and further to reduce the level of crime.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Banks) for his great support for the tougher sentencing proposals that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary wants to introduce. That sort of support is helpful in our fight against crime.

The success of the police in effectively reducing crime, especially the targeting of persistent and known offenders, has been highlighted this week by Operation Christmas Cracker. We will ensure that the police continue to receive the means necessary further to tackle crime and the criminal.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), who noted his happiness with the new funding arrangements for the Lincolnshire police. That is symptomatic of our funding of all police forces, but I know that Lincolnshire should be particularly pleased.

The work of the police in apprehending the criminal will be reinforced by the enhanced powers given to the courts to deal with the guilty. I was privileged to have lunch with the chief constable of West Yorkshire the other day. He indicated his satisfaction with the new approach of the Government on funding and with our intentions on sentencing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley mentioned special constables. There are now 19,630 special constables and my hon. Friend will be delighted to know that, as a result of the initiative of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to have far more of them, we have in the past year processed 14,000 applications for special constables. I hope that that will soon be seen to be contributing to the policing of our communities.

It is by encouraging the whole community to play its part in fighting crime that we will be able to be most decisive in our defeat of the criminal. Expansion of schemes such as neighbourhood watch, street watch and neighbourhood special constables helps local communities to find opportunities to reduce criminal activity and gain a sense of security through the visible presence of individuals looking out for their neighbours and their neighbours' property.

I shall quickly commend the real heroes. I commend Bill Prollins, our neighbourhood watch co-ordinator who lives over the road from me in the village where I reside in West Yorkshire; I commend our community constable, Maggie Peare, who does a magnificent job; and I also commend one of my neighbours who was unfortunately the victim of a crime recently. As a result of the great partnership and co-ordination in our area—and this is happening in more and more parts of the country as a result of Government initiatives—we have made sure that crime prevention has been stepped up. The perpetrators of the crime against our neighbour have been taken into custody and, we hope, will be put in prison. Constable Maggie Peare will. I hope. be commended for her work.[Interruption.] The problem is that the Opposition do not want to know about all that. They are not interested in the results of our policies at street level. They do not want to know about such successes. They have all the high-falutin' statistics and nonsense that the Labour party seems to produce. I congratulate those people because they are typical of all the people around the country who are involved in such schemes.

We must ensure that the largest ever fall in the number of recorded crimes, achieved over the past two years, is built upon throughout the country and not just in my street or those of my hon. Friends. The Government are intent on carrying forward a comprehensive strategy to tackle crime which will continue to focus on protecting the public and targeting the criminal.

Together with the police, the criminal justice agencies and the whole community, we will continue to ensure that the criminal is increasingly deterred and, when caught, that it is the criminal who fully pays for his crimes. Furthermore, because every crime produces at least one victim and every criminal has many victims, it is vital that the support that we are giving to victim support schemes is continued. The Government are intent on doing that.

Mr. Michael

Keep going, only another couple of minutes left.

Mr. Kirkhope

The hon. Gentleman should not behave in so derisory a manner. This is a serious matter.

Mr. Michael

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Kirkhope

No, I will not.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Sedentary comments are not helpful, especially at this stage of a debate.

Mr. Kirkhope

We heard enough from the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) earlier. There was plenty of quantity but little in the way of quality or policies.

The Government have a packed agenda. [Interruption.] Yes, we do. Many of our initiatives from that agenda have already produced enormous success in our battle against criminals. We have heard absolutely nothing today from either the Labour party or the Liberal Democrats that would contribute one iota to the fight in which we are engaged.

Mr. Alex Carlile

The Minister has not answered the debate.

Mr. Kirkhope

I am doing so in the way I wish to do it. My response reflects the Government's determination to fight crime.

We have heard useful speeches from my hon. Friends, but most of them have been treated in the wrong way by the Opposition, who failed to take note of them. They should realise that we are succeeding. Instead of the Opposition's constant carping, we should be able to expect some further support from them for the Government's efforts.

We have an agenda designed to protect ordinary people and uphold the rule of law. It is not words, and certainly not those we have heard from the Opposition, which constituents want to hear. They want to see continued action, such as that which allows people to walk the streets in safety—that is action. They want to see measures to promote crime prevention—that is action. They want action to support the dangerous work carried out by our police day by day, and night by night.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Back to