HC Deb 20 March 1997 vol 292 cc1067-8
10. Mr. Robert G. Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received concerning delays in the criminal justice system; and if he will make a statement. [19791]

Mr. Howard

I frequently receive representations about delays in the criminal justice system, which is why my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and I set up the review, the report of which I published on 27 February.

Mr. Hughes

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the speeding up of the criminal justice system that will flow from his review paper will be warmly welcomed by the public, and that they will not be taken in by Opposition Members who side with all the vested interests that simply do not want to speed up criminal justice? Will not people conclude that it is the Home Secretary who is interested in speeding up criminal justice and that Labour wants only to sound as if it wants to speed it up?

Mr. Howard

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The potential benefits of these proposals would lead to almost all defendants being in court the day after they are charged, compared with fewer than 20 per cent. now, about 50 per cent. of defendants being convicted the day after charge, compared with 3 per cent. now, and young offenders appearing in court within days of committing their offence, instead of the present average of 10 weeks. I have yet to hear expressions of support from the Labour party for the measures in that review.

Mr. Michael

As one who campaigned for an ending of the delays in criminal justice for many years before coming into this place, I am amazed by the Home Secretary's response. After 18 years, why has it taken an imminent general election to get the Home Secretary to admit what we have been telling him for years: that justice delayed is justice denied to victims, to offenders who need to be punished and to ordinary people whose communities have been damaged by crime under the Conservatives? Why have the Conservatives failed to cut the scandalous delays, particularly as proved by the Audit Commission, in the youth justice system?

Mr. Howard

Here we have it again. The Labour party pays lip service to the objectives, but says nothing about the way in which those objectives can be achieved. Why did the hon. Gentleman not tell us whether his party agreed or disagreed with our proposals? Why did he not tell us whether it would support their implementation? Labour Members are not prepared to tell us what their attitude to these matters is. They simply get up and offer platitude, after platitude, after platitude.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Is not the worst delay in the criminal justice system the delay in catching the criminals once they have committed their offences, and before they commit the next offence? Will my right hon. and learned Friend congratulate the Burton upon Trent police, who this year have increased yet again their rate of detection and who have reduced the rate of crime by 20 per cent. in the past three years? Does he agree that the Burton police and every other police force is now better trained, better equipped, better led, better paid and better supported by the law than they have ever been in our history, and will continue to be so only when we are re-elected?

Mr. Howard

I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend and I am delighted to join him in congratulating the Burton police on their performance, which mirrors the performance of the police service throughout the country, which has reduced recorded crime in the past four years by the largest amount since records were first kept in 1857.