HC Deb 14 March 1996 vol 273 cc1097-9
9. Mr. Gordon Prentice

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent research his Department has evaluated on the correlation between social and economic conditions and crime. [18990]

Mr. Howard

A wide range of Government and independent studies on that subject have been evaluated by my Department, including recently published Home Office research by Graham and Bowling into why some young people commit crime.

Mr. Prentice

Is there not a close and direct correlation between unemployment, especially youth unemployment, and crime, notably violent crime—a correlation that Conservative Members have consistently denied? If I am wrong about that, will the Home Secretary tell me why this year, for the first time, the police grant includes an element that specifically addresses youth unemployment?

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is mistaken: research has not uncovered any link between unemployment levels and crime. However, this is one of the most arid arguments that it is possible to have. We recognise that unemployment is a social evil, whether or not it causes crime, and we pursue policies that bring unemployment down. The Labour party pursues policies—such as the introduction of the social chapter and the minimum wage—that increase unemployment. That can be seen from the figure for youth unemployment in France, of 27.7 per cent., and that for Spain, of 38.2 per cent., which is double the figure in this country.

Mrs. Peacock

Is it not outrageous that many people suggest that all those who are unemployed, and all those on low incomes, become criminals? That is an insult to the many law-abiding citizens who are unemployed, often through no fault of their own. Unemployed people should not all be put in the same category.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The vast majority of unemployed people are law-abiding citizens, and it casts a slur on them to suggest that unemployment is in any sense an excuse for crime.

Mr. Straw

While nothing could or should excuse the commission of crime, does the Home Secretary agree that high unemployment levels, especially among young people, contribute considerably to increasing the number of people who are tempted into a criminal life? Was not Lord Whitelaw—another Conservative Home Secretary—entirely correct when he said exactly that?

Mr. Howard

The question originally put by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) was about research. Research has not uncovered any link between unemployment and crime—particularly violent crime, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I repeat: if the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) is so keen to reduce unemployment, why does he not persuade his party to abandon its policies on the social chapter and the minimum wage—and, indeed, the policies that would consign 16 to 18-year-olds straight from school to the dole queue? Unlike the Government, the hon. Gentleman's party would not make training compulsory for 16 to 18-year-olds, and would encourage them to become unemployed.

Mr. Brazier

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, during the 1930s, when more than 20 per cent. of the work force was unemployed, crime was at almost its lowest ever point? In the context of his last answer, will he join me in congratulating Kent training and enterprise council on its current remarkable programme under which several hundred youngsters from the worst and most difficult conditions, many of them with criminal records, are given work experience courses to prepare them for training? It includes, where necessary, physically getting them out of bed in the morning.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw attention to the levels of unemployment and crime in the 1930s. I am happy to join him in endorsing the excellent work that is being carried out by Kent training and enterprise council.

Mr. Alton

Where there are sink estates and deprived social conditions, does the Secretary of State agree—to return to the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight)—that the constant flow of violence via television and video contributes to the culture of violence?

As the House is soon to consider a broadcasting Bill, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give parents the chance to have a V-chip inserted in their television sets so that they can sift out the violence that is being poured into their homes? What does he propose to do about James Ferman's decision—and that of the British Board of Film Classification—to license for home viewing, and therefore for access by children, a film as outrageous as the one to which the hon. Member for Edgbaston referred—"Natural Born Killers"—which glorifies violence, the killing, maiming or brutalising of 50 people and the amoral consequence of no one being held to account at the end of the film? People drive off into the sunset as if the matter were entirely neutral.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman knows that I have a great deal of sympathy for the general view with which he began his question. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage is considering making the chip to which the hon. Gentleman referred available in this country. The hon. Gentleman asked about the British Board of Film Classification. He and I co-operated on strengthening the legislation that deals with such matters. It makes greater the ease and availability of judicial review for the board's decisions, and anyone who feels aggrieved by the decision to which the hon. Gentleman referred can take that avenue.