HL Deb 28 October 1976 vol 376 cc619-24

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what was the number of convictions for mugging offences in the United Kingdom during the period 1970–75; whether they are satisfied that the police forces are adequately equipped to achieve more positive results in addition to the excellent work which they have already done; and what plans they have in mind to put these measures into effect.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will circulate in the Official Report a Table showing the number of persons found guilty of robbery or assault with intent to rob over the period requested in England and Wales. "Mugging" is a term which has no legal definition. The offences of robbery or assault with intent to rob include robberies of personal property following sudden attack in the open, and they include other types of robbery as well. Also some of the offences classed in the criminal statistics as "theft from the person of another" may involve some degree of violence. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has informed my right honourable friend of the special attention, including high priority in manning, that he has been giving to policing in the areas of London where this is a special problem, and I have no doubt that other chief officers of police are doing likewise.

Following is the Table referred to:

No. of Persons
1970 2,612
1971 2,999
1972 3,415
1973 3,159
1974 2,767
1975 3,458

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for that lucid Answer. May I first declare an interest of a deficit financial nature, if one could put it that way, in that three years ago, I was a victim of a mugging attack. May I put a few supplementary questions to the noble Lord? First, is he aware that, in my case, due to their carelessness the cowards concerned were apprehended and sentenced? Is the noble Lord further aware that I am, and I am sure the whole House is, very grateful to the police all over the country for what they have done with very limited resources in apprehending these very undesirable people.

If I may make one suggestion to the noble Lord in the form of a question, may I ask him whether the deployment of more police on foot duty with police dogs, particularly in the areas where these offences take place most frequently, will not be a very severe deterrent to these people? Finally, does the noble Lord think that more liaison between the community race committees, the police and the indigenous communities in these areas would be particularly beneficial?


My Lords, I am sure we are all glad that those who attacked the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, were apprehended. So far as the questions he has put to me are concerned, first with regard to foot patrols and whether there can be more foot patrols in the areas where these problems exist, as the noble Lord and the House will be aware, there has been a striking improvement in recruitment of the Metropolitan Police over the last year and a half. There has been a net increase of 100 a month this year, which has enabled the Commissioner to have more resources at his disposal to deal with the problem. On the second point, whether there can be more local liaison between the police and local community relations organisations, such liaison representatives exist in the Metropolitan Police divisions, and there is a commander at Scotland Yard who deals with this matter on a full-time basis.


My Lords, can the noble Lord the Minister tell me and the House, even though it may be a matter more appropriate to his noble and learned friend, whether it is the case that delays in bringing accused persons to trial are beginning to mount up in the metropolis? Is it not a fact that one of the things the Government can do is to reduce the period between committal and arraignment so that fewer of these people are abroad before they are tried?


Yes, my Lords; I noted with interest the point which the noble and learned Lord raised yesterday evening on the Bail Bill. I will certainly look into the matter. I was recently discussing this matter with the Judiciary, but this is a matter for my noble and learned friend. I will look into it, and either I or my noble and learned friend will write to him.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord the Minister agree that this is a matter which must be left in the hands of the police force and that any attempt to form bands of private citizens to deal with this problem might be conducive to public disorder?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, for his remarks. It is the task of the police and not of any local self-appointed body to deal with law breakers. Your Lordships will have seen a statement issued on behalf of the Metropolitan Police in which they welcome the traditional assistance which they have received from members of the public. But they are firmly against any vigilante groups being formed. That is also the view of the Government.


My Lords, in view of the fact—and I believe it to be a fact—that many young people are being accused of these offences and also of shoplifting, is it not possible for those responsible for our education facilities to give the occasional short lectures in schools on the subject of civilised behaviour? Is there not a responsibility on the members of the teaching profession to help in this matter?


My Lords, I think we all have to play a part in dealing with what is a very serious problem not only in London but in a number of centres outside London. The precise terms of the question are a matter for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. I will draw her attention to it.


My Lords, does the noble Lord the Minister feel that the police are adequately paid for the very great services that they give to this country? I hope that they are, and will be, adequately paid for all they do in trying to keep law and order in this country. We ought to be very grateful to them.


Yes, my Lords; we all recognise the debt which we owe to the police. But on the particular question which the noble Baroness has raised, which is rather wider than the one on the Order Paper, it is only right to say that the police received a pay increase of 30 per cent. instead of the £6 at the end of last year.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say why, when, he and other Ministers reply to Questions is of this sort, they never refer to the Special Constabulary, who do not get paid at all, or to their value, not as a substitute for but as a backup to the regular police? Is he aware that the noble Lord on my left was a special constable for 20 years, and in his day there was no trouble on this front?


My Lords, I am grateful for that point. I know the interest which the noble Lord takes in the Special Constabulary and he knows that I share his interest in this matter. Indeed, I share his view of the importance of the Special Constabulary. I am aware that I gave a very long Answer to the initial Question, but nevertheless, I take this opportunity of joining with the noble Lord in saying that, if people want to be of assistance to the police, they can make themselves available for the Special Constabulary, which does most important work on behalf of the entire community.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he would agree that this problem is not to be solved entirely by increasing the number of police and the number of convictions scored against those who commit the offences, but by preventing the offences from being committed in the first place, and that one of the contributions which the Government could make towards a solution would be an early announcement of a comprehensive strategy for dealing with urban disadvantage from which so much of this crime stems?


My Lords, the noble Lord is, of course, right in saying that a larger number of wide social issues are involved in this matter than simply those which have been ventilated this afternoon. Nevertheless I think that, given the very difficult problem that exists in certain parts of London, it is extremely helpful that there has been this significant improvement in recruitment to the police, who are our first line of defence in dealing with problems of this sort. But I agree with the noble Lord that there are wider problems and the Government are addressing their minds to them.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware so far as the magistracy is concerned that, due to the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, the punitive measures which magistrates are able to take in dealing with these offences are completely inadequate? We are able only to send a child to a detention centre—and he comes out in six weeks—or to borstal for nine months, to fine him or put him in the care of the local authority. This in the view of, I would say, a majority of the magistrates in this country is completely inadequate for these offences.


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary had a meeting only yesterday with representatives of the Magistrates' Association to discuss some of the issues raised by the noble Baroness. But I must say I would not altogether accept her judgment of this matter. I am well aware, of course, that there is this anxiety about the 1969 Act, but I think I should draw her attention to the fact that, as a result of the terms of Section 53 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, a child or young person found guilty of a grave crime on indictment, for an offence carrying 14 years or more imprisonment if applied to an adult, can be detained for a period of up to life imprisonment. Indeed, in these particular cases about which there has been a fair degree of publicity in recent days, two of those who appeared before the learned judge received sentences of three years' detention, one received a sentence of five years, and another received a sentence of seven years.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he would agree that to pass a sentence which is suspended only encourages the young people themselves? I am talking about children of 14 and 15. They go out and do it again, and it is quite impossible to stop them at this stage.


My Lords, I have indicated two things. First of all, I accept that there is this anxiety about the 1969 Act, and that is one of the reasons why the Government recently published their White Paper and why my right honourable friend met representatives of the Magistrates' Association. Nevertheless, I think it is right to point out that some of those who received the sentences which I have just outlined were 16 or 17.


My Lords, if my noble friend will forgive me, we have had nearly 12 minutes on the first Question. I think the feeling of the House is that we should proceed to the next Question.

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