HC Deb 05 December 1996 vol 286 cc1186-7
2. Mr. Campbell-Savours

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what has been the change in the levels of criminal activity in recent years. [6149]

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

Recorded crime levels in the 12 months to June 1996 were 10 per cent. lower than three years ago. That is a fall of more than half a million offences—the biggest continuous fall over three years since records were first kept in 1876. Crime is still far too high and there is much more to be done, but I congratulate the police on their considerable recent success.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I thank the Home Secretary for those figures. I was handed a remarkable statistic this morning, which I ask him to confirm. Is it true that only one in 50 recorded crimes leads to a conviction? If so, does it not suggest a total breakdown of law and order in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Howard

If the hon. Gentleman is really interested in such matters, he should congratulate the police in Cumbria, who have a 40 per cent. record of clearing up crime. If he is really interested in improving those statistics, he will join us in reforms—such as changing the right to silence—which were opposed root and branch by the Opposition. Research on the effect of those changes shows that the number of suspects refusing to answer questions has almost halved. Will the hon. Gentleman support us in those changes?

Mr. Brazier

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the latest British crime survey—which is wholly independent of Government figures—showed the first drop in burglaries since figures were compiled? Does he further agree that we can assist the police in converting successful clear-ups into successful convictions by giving them greater powers? Will he confirm that changes to the right to silence and the granting of other powers through the national data bank have greatly enhanced the chances of the police converting crimes into convictions?

Mr. Howard

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right. We must ensure that everyone is totally aware of the extent to which the Opposition have voted against, blocked and obstructed those increases in powers. When we changed the right to silence, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), now Leader of the Opposition, described the change as "an injustice" when he opposed it and led his party into the Division Lobby against it time after time. That is the truth of the Opposition's attitude to the effective way of improving the powers of the police to deal with crime.

Mr. Hardy

After supervising the largest increase in crime in recorded history in the United Kingdom, is it not to be expected that a modest increase will have taken place, even though the vast majority of people in the country will not believe it? Does the Secretary of State not accept that the scale of crime that affects communities like mine is such that more than half the news content of local newspapers week after week is devoted to crime, which to a large extent is caused by the economic and social policies of the Government?

Mr. Howard

The last observation of the hon. Gentleman speaks volumes about the Opposition's attitude to crime. Crime, according to them, is caused not by criminals—those who break the law—but by economic and social conditions, which he attributes to the Government, overlooking the fact that, since the Conservatives have been in office, the average standard of living in this country, the average take-home pay of the average family, has increased by 40 per cent.

Mr. Congdon

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, to reinforce the welcome downward trend in burglary, it is important to show burglars that crime does not pay? Does he agree therefore that it is important to ensure that burglars—particularly repeat burglars—are given custodial sentences, and of a sufficient length? Does he further agree that the public will very much welcome the proposals in his Crime (Sentences) Bill?

Mr. Howard

I entirely agree with the point that my hon. Friend makes. It is, of course, why we propose and provide for in the Crime (Sentences) Bill minimum, mandatory sentences for anyone convicted of a third burglary. The truth of the matter is that far too many career burglars regard a short spell in prison as nothing more than an occupational hazard. We have to change the terms of trade against career burglars. We have to ensure that they know what to expect if they continue their career in crime. That is what the provisions in the Crime (Sentences) Bill will achieve.