HC Deb 10 June 2002 vol 386 cc582-4
4. Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

What targets he has for reducing levels of violent crime. [57049]

The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham)

The Government are working to reduce all violent crime. The 2001 British crime survey showed that violent crime overall was down by 19 per cent. in 2000 as against 1999. Last year, street crime rose in some of our large towns and cities. We are working with 10 police forces and other agencies in those 10 areas to tackle street crime. The earlier announcement of resources from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary includes details of an allocation of £27 million across those 10 forces today to enable them to tackle street crime.

Mr. Osborne

I noticed that the Minister did not repeat the Prime Minister's target of reducing street crime by the end of September. To clear up the confusion that has followed since the Prime Minister blurted that out at Prime Minister's questions seven weeks ago, will the Minister confirm that the Government expect street crime to fall in absolute terms by the end of September?

Mr. Denham

I have made it clear what we want to achieve. Street crime rose last year. First, we must reverse that increase, and then we must deliver long-term and sustainable reductions in street crime.

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon)

What plans are there to tackle the violent crime of rape? It is nearly two years since the publication of the sex offences review, which suggested changes to the current defence of an honest but unreasonable belief in consent. When can we expect legislation to get that wholly outrageous defence off the statute book?

Mr. Denham

A number of aspects of the matter are currently under consideration, and in the near future we hope to make announcements that will be of interest to my hon. Friend. At the last Home Office questions, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was asked about the joint report into the prosecution of rape. He said then that the Home Office would be leading a review by officials across Government Departments of how to respond to the low level of successful rape prosecutions. That work will be completed within the month.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

Is it not the case that a growing amount of violent street crime involves guns? How can the Minister justify a situation in which an armed police officer who opens fire—even in self-defence—at an armed criminal is automatically suspended from all police operational duties for a long period of time, usually a minimum of 18 months? Is that not enormously wasteful and demoralising to some of the most highly trained and courageous officers in the police?

Mr. Denham

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Thankfully, it is still the case that the use of firearms by the police in this country occurs on a relatively limited number of occasions each year. It has always been accepted by the police service that there should be proper procedures when someone is injured as a result. The hon. Gentleman's important point is how long it should take to satisfactorily conclude any investigation. That is a matter that I shall look into.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's response to the question. Does he agree that violent crime on the roads needs to be looked at carefully? We must drive forward our targets in that regard. I welcome also the speech of my noble Friend Lord Falconer last Thursday at the RoadPeace conference. Victims were at the heart of that speech. When are we likely to see a response to the sentencing review in that respect?

Mr. Denham

I shall write to my hon. Friend. I do not know precisely when the sentencing review will be completed. I am sure that everybody acknowledges the underlying point that he raises, as many of those maimed by dangerous drivers—and the relatives of those killed in road incidents—feel unfairly treated by the present system.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

May I take the Minister back to his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne)? Is the Minister unwilling to endorse the Prime Minister's comments? Less than 48 hours later the Lord Chief Justice said: you can have initiative after initiative … but if you don't touch the basic problems, you will never achieve public confidence". Is not that a better approach? Part of the problem is that the Government have contributed to making the police's task of tackling violent crime more difficult by introducing such restrictions as best value, which has led to greater bureaucracy, and the new stop-and-search procedures, which will also add considerably to bureaucracy. Would it not be better to give adequate support to the police to carry out that task and leave alone the sort of gimmicks that the Prime Minister came up with?

Mr. Denham

I presume that the hon. Gentleman includes in his attack on gimmicks the actions taken by the Metropolitan police in their safer streets campaign which, in its eighth week, has already delivered a fall in street crime in the target boroughs of 21 per cent. compared with last year. In those areas that we have targeted across the country we will stop the rise in street crime, then cause levels to fall and take the measures necessary to sustain that fall. We will do that through practical support for the police—first, by delivering record and rising numbers of police officers; secondly, by ensuring that they are supported by the rest of the criminal justice system; and thirdly, by introducing, as we have done in the past few weeks, video identity parades to cut bureaucracy and time-wasting. It is those practical measures and others, undertaken in partnership with the police, the criminal justice agencies, education and local communities, that will enable this country to get on top of street crime.