HC Deb 20 November 2000 vol 357 cc5-7
2. Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall)

If he will make a statement on trends in the level of crime in England and Wales since 1997. [137445]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

The British crime survey published last month shows that there was an overall fall of 10 per cent. in crime levels between 1997 and 1999. It showed that there had been a 4 per cent. reduction in violent crime, a 15 per cent. reduction in vehicle-related thefts and a 21 per cent. reduction in domestic burglary.

Mr. Khabra

I am not going to pot like the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, both for his answer and for the granting of up to £33 million for schemes to install closed circuit television in various parts of the country, which has benefited my constituency and helped to reduce the level of crime there. I am aware of the second annual report on the Government's anti-drugs strategy. How does my right hon. Friend intend to tackle the problem of drug dealers targeting younger people?

Mr. Straw

We have put in place a range of schemes the better to tackle drug dealers and those who are associated with them, including street robbers. A lot of street robberies take place with a view to gaining cash to deal in drugs, as do many domestic and other burglaries. We have already implemented section 3 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997, so that those who are convicted of second or subsequent offences of dealing in class A drugs will receive a minimum sentence of at least seven years. We are doing a great deal of other work under the crime reduction programme—for example, CCTV has been of major assistance in ensuring that the police are better able to detect and then gain convictions for drug offences, among others—and we are putting a huge amount of money into the police, the probation service and the Prison Service, to target better those who are addicted to drugs and consequently committing a great deal of crime.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

As so many of the crimes are committed by people who have already been through the prison system, and given its recent serious failures, as manifested in places such as Feltham, Brixton and Blantyre House, it cannot be possible for the Prison Service to concentrate on its stated objective of reducing reoffending. It is distracted by those serious failures of management and it is clear that there is something very rotten in parts of the Prison Service. Will the Home Secretary and his colleagues be as tough on the Prison Service and its failures as they are, rightly, on crime and the causes of crime? Will he make it a target to try to increase the number of prisoners who are helped by the Prison Service to avoid reoffending, so that we can get down the figures that are so high now, because the Prison Service fails the offenders and lets society down?

Mr. Straw

Where there are failures by individual staff of the Prison Service, be it in terms of maintaining a proper regime or because of their attitudes to issues of race or other matters, we take those seriously. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Commission for Racial Equality has established an independent investigation into aspects of the matters to which he referred. That was announced last Friday and has our full support and endorsement.

Running a prison service is extremely difficult for people at every level, and I have every confidence in the director general and his staff. It is not true that prison overall is failing, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, and 97 or 98 per cent. of the people who go to prison are sent there by the courts because community sentences have failed to work and to prevent offending behaviour. We are toughening up community sentences, but also toughening up the way in which the prison system deals with offenders once they are in prison, with a view better to ensure that their offending behaviour is reduced when they come out. So we are toughening up community sentences, as well as the way in which prisons deal with offenders once they are in prison, with a view better to ensure that their offending behaviour is reduced when they come out.

Gillian Merron (Lincoln)

I welcome the continued reduction in crime in Lincolnshire, which makes it one of the safest places to live in the country, but is the Home Secretary aware of the excellent contribution made by Lincoln city council's urban rangers, who provide such a reassuring presence on the streets in my constituency? Does my right hon. Friend have plans to work with other Departments to promote and encourage innovative schemes such as this so that we may continue to tackle crime and the fear of crime?

Mr. Straw

Yes, I would like to congratulate the Lincolnshire constabulary and the city of Lincoln on their excellent work in reducing crime. It is indeed one of the safest areas in the country. The imaginative city rangers scheme emphasises that the fight against crime and disorder cannot be dealt with by the police alone, as the police themselves recognise. The more that others are used and the more we use the resources of the local authorities as well as those of the police service, the better able we are, in partnership, to drive crime and disorder down.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Given that the Home Secretary told the House on 24 July that the level of crime was for the criminals to determine, that violent crime in the year to March 2000 rose by 100,000 offences, that the British crime survey suggests that actual crime is approximately four and a half times the level of that which is recorded, and that the Government have chucked out of jail no fewer than 27,000 criminals early—typically after they have served only half their sentence—is it any wonder that the right hon. Gentleman is so widely regarded as a lily-livered liberal, and that the criminal classes of this country are praying for a Labour election victory?

Mr. Straw

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his first performance at the Dispatch Box and look forward to many more. I am told by my friends that as to whether I am a liberal or not, I have no reputation to lose. However, it looks as though the hon. Gentleman will resurrect it and make me popular in Hampstead as well as in places such as Blackburn, where I hope that I am already popular.

I am glad of the hon. Gentleman's endorsement of the British crime survey's accuracy. It shows overall crime levels significantly above those of the recorded crime statistics. The survey was established by the Conservatives in 1981 and its veracity has never been challenged until this year, when it showed crime going down under Labour.

The British crime survey, which is the best study we have, shows that crime is too high. We are not in the least complacent about levels of crime. However, it showed that crime rose inexorably for almost the entire period of the previous Conservative Government and that it has fallen under Labour by 10 per cent.—the best record of any Administration for 40 years.