§ 12. Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)
If he will make a statement on the number of robberies in England and Wales in the year to 30 September 1999. 
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke)
The number of robbery offences, in the year to 30 September 1999, is recorded as 74,843. The figure represents about 1.4 per cent. of all recorded crime.
§ Mr. Loughton
In the past three years, in the relatively incident-free town of Shoreham in the heart of my constituency, not only have several banks been robbed in daylight hours, but one building society has been robbed three times. We seem to have taken more than our fair share of the first increases in robberies and violent crime since 1993. To what does the Minister attribute the increases? Is it anything to do with the facts that we have 1,700 fewer policeman or that 16,000 prisoners have received early release—or does he have another explanation for the surge?
§ Mr. Clarke
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I know Shoreham because I have relatives there—who, unfortunately, are his constituents. The facts are that, in the Sussex force area, to the year ended September 1999, 911 offences of robbery were recorded, against total recorded crime of 135,000—so the number of robberies as a proportion of all crime in his area was lower than the national average. Generally, I believe that the Sussex force has been extremely effective in fighting robbery and other forms of crime, and that the various initiatives that we are taking, on CCTV and on local government crime and disorder partnerships, are extremely effective in bearing down on that type of crime.
§ Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)
I understand that the Minister intends to have targets for robbery at basic command unit level. Is he concerned that the local resources may not match the targets and, more important, that the targets will distort the deployment of police resources in a constabulary area so that the cities and high-crime areas continue to act as magnets for police resources, denuding the rural areas and areas with low crime?
§ Mr. Clarke
We intend to have targets for violent crime, not only robbery, in all basic command units over time. We have set out our programmes today. Our targets for vehicle crime, burglary and violent crime are reasonable, and most people will welcome them. They will prioritise certain issues in a way that is necessary. They will also draw resources to where they are most needed to fight such crime. I do not accept the suggestion that that will result in some areas being denuded of resources.