HL Deb 14 July 1981 vol 422 cc1116-8

2.44 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

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 whether they will consider appointing a Minister for law and order, owing to the general increase in crime.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, with the support of his ministerial team, is responsible for matters relating to law and order.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that short Answer, may I ask whether he is aware that my Question certainly implies no reflection on the Home Secretary? However, if we take the multitude of problems, apart from crime, with which the Home Secretary has to contend, may I ask my noble friend whether he thinks it is fair or possible to expect him today to be responsible for countering the rising amount of crime and violence which we are witnessing? Further, would my noble friend agree that, if we had a Minister for law and order, he could concentrate entirely on those subjects and inquire into the causes to see whether any groups are spreading sedition and misleading our young people?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, it is the responsibility of the Government in this country to see that the agencies of law and order can do their work effectively, and I certainly join with my noble friend in his wish to see that their work is done as effectively as possible. I think it is fair for me to claim that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has shown very effectively that the necessary equipment is being made available to the police for them to deal with those who are rioting and looting, and as your Lordships will have read in the newspapers, the courts are dealing with cases arising from recent violence effectively and swiftly.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, would the Minister be kind enough to tell the House the comparative costs of employing another Minister instead of employing a few more policemen?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the answer to the first part of that supplementary question is that I do not think anyone could get better value for money than they get out of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. As for the second part, it might be of interest to the House to know that we now have 7,000 more policemen in this country than we had in May 1979.

Lord Shinwell

Yes, my Lords, but does the Minister not realise that it is not just a question of numbers? It is a question of organisation, will and policy. That is what is required, along with anticipation, which is perhaps more important than any other quality. Is the noble Lord aware that that is where the Government have been lacking?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, the Government have not been lacking here. The whole basis of the Answer to my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard is, as the noble Lord with his long experience will know much better than I do, that in this country the police cannot be directed, for good reasons of democracy and freedom, in what they do; it is the chief constables who are responsible for their operations. And the courts cannot be directed by any member of the Government in what they decide. However, where I absolutely take the noble Lord's point is that it is up to the Government to see that matters work, and I would add to the information I have already given that one of the valuable things which my noble friend has set in train is a co-ordinating system which is based here in London, so that different forces around the country can decide where and how police should be moved between police forces.

Lord Barnby

My Lords, reverting to the Minister's first Answer, may I ask him to discuss with the Secretary of State the possibility that, even at the taxpayers' expense, more publicity should be given to the sentences imposed for rioting, associating with that publicity details of the length of time that habitually occurs between the committal of an offence and the sentence being imposed?

Lord Belstead

I am grateful to my noble friend for that supplementary, my Lords, and his comments at the end of it were of the greatest importance. My noble friend may have noticed from today's newspapers that the courts are dealing swiftly, and I am sure effectively, with the very serious troubles which have been occurring in the last 10 days.

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether from the reply to a question asked of him recently it would be right to infer that the situation regarding law and order under the present Government in the past two years has necessitated increasing the police force by 7,000?

Lord Belstead

No, my Lords. I said that the police forces taken nationally have increased by 7,000 men and women since May of 1979. May I point out that the increase had begun before the time of the general election and resulted in the Edmund-Davies inquiry set up by Mr. Merlyn Rees. So that there is no misunderstanding, I would add that that has brought more or less all the police forces throughout the land up to establishment, except the Metropolitan Police, which is still below establishment, but is recruiting month by month.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, following what the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said, would not my noble friend agree that if any Government are to be criticised for lack of foresight in the training, organisation and equipping of our police, it should be the previous Government, who did so little when the signs were so clear? Would not my noble friend also agree that much credit should be given to the present Government, who have done more than any of their predecessors in helping over the organisation and training of reserves and in the provision of new equipment, such as is widely used on the continent, and which will all make such a difference to the security of the people of this country?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, my noble friend refers to very serious matters which have been of great concern throughout the 1970s. However, I would point out that I did refer to the action taken by Mr. Merlyn Rees under the previous Government, and I do not detract from one word of what I said with reference to the right honourable gentleman.

Lord Blyton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that at the last general election the great plank of the Conservative Party, in attacking us, was that they would restore law and order? Even the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack made a lot of noises about law and order, but it is worse today than it was when we were in power.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack is the most law-abiding noble Lord in the country. Both my noble and learned friend and the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, would surely see the force of the fact that there are now 7,000 more men and women in the police forces throughout the land than there were two years ago. This is of vital importance at the present time.

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Soames)

My Lords, I think perhaps we should move on to the next Question.

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