HL Deb 19 June 2002 vol 636 cc738-41

2.59 p.m.

Viscount Astor

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they respond to the latest indications that crime is rising and detection rates are falling.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, national statistics on levels of crime will be published on 12th July. They will include the British Crime Survey and recorded crime statistics. Crime has fallen by 21 per cent since 1997 according to the 2001 British Crime Survey, which reflects victims' direct experience of crime. The Government's response to crime includes having the highest number ever of police officers in England and Wales and halving the time it takes to deal with persistent young offenders from arrest to sentence. More needs to be done to increase yet further the number of police officers and to reform the criminal justice system.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for being able to answer my Question. What is his response to the statement by Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, calling for all the crime-fighting agencies to work together—and his implied criticism that in some cases not all the agencies are co-operating as they should be? What are the Government's plans to improve the situation?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, it is extremely important that all of those organisations do work together. Equally, it is extremely important that the independence of the judiciary and the prosecutors should be preserved. Arrangements have been in place since 1997 to ensure that both at national and at local level there are good co-ordinating arrangements between the relevant agencies. Those arrangements have brought about co-ordination where it did not previously exist.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, whichever way he permutes the crime figures, does the noble and learned Lord accept that recent research indicates that in a number of police authorities crime is on the increase? Will he further accept that, now, fear of crime is much greater than crime itself? How does he expect the Prime Minister to fulfil his promise that street crime will be reduced by September?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

Yes, my Lords, early returns from certain police forces indicate that in some areas crime may be going up. We shall have to wait until 12th July to see whether it affects the overall figures. Fear of crime is an important issue, which we need to address by having an effective police force and an effective criminal justice system. So far as concerns the Prime Minister's street crime initiative, what has happened—picking up on the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor—is that the agencies have all been working together with the priority of bearing down on street crime.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, can my noble and learned friend explain why the 43 separate police forces in England find it either impossible or inconvenient to collect crime statistics on the same basis? In other words, 10 crimes in one force area turn out to be either 15 or five in two others. Does my noble and learned friend also accept that there is no correlation between the number of police officers and detection rates?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, in response to the last point, detection rates do vary, and it does not necessarily depend on the number of police officers. As to the first question, of course it would be much more convenient if all police forces recorded crimes on exactly the same basis. I hope that that is the direction in which we are travelling.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is juvenile crime recorded separately? I regularly read of people being too young to be brought before the courts. Will that be reflected in the statistics; and is any thought being given to dealing with the problem?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

Yes, my Lords, juvenile crime is recorded separately and that will be reflected in the statistics. Juvenile crime is a problem that affects many communities—particularly deprived communities—and many say that it is their number one concern. We have regarded it as a priority. As I said in my original Answer, we have halved the time that it takes from arrest to disposal of a case in relation to persistent young offenders. Delays in the criminal justice system are very undermining.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord take this opportunity to clarify the Government's intention as regards making evidence of prior convictions available to juries? The matter was left unclear when he talked to Mr Jeremy Paxman last night.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, when I spoke to Mr Jeremy Paxman, I indicated that a White Paper would be produced on 17th July in which a number of issues will be considered, including that raised by the noble Lord. It would be wrong for me to indicate—as I did not do yesterday—what the White Paper will say in relation to the issue.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, are the reports correct that much street crime involves the theft of mobile telephones? If so, are the Government in touch with the manufacturers so that they can make the necessary modifications to reduce those thefts?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am not sure what the statistics indicate, but there are strong indications that mobile phones are one of the major targets in street crime. Yes, much can be done by the manufacturers making the value of the theft of a mobile phone very little indeed.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, is it not true that the legislation that will be dealt with by this House tomorrow will have a huge effect on the crime statistics?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am afraid that my noble friend has got me there; I do not know to which particular Bill he is referring.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, the Bill dealing with mobile telephones.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

Yes, my Lords, it will.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord tell us why Jeremy Paxman is so polite to him and so rude to others? The information might come in quite useful.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am unable to answer that question.

Lord Renton

My Lords, do the Government have specific proposals for reducing juvenile crime?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the increase in the number of police officers will reduce crime. In addition, we believe that the changes to the criminal justice system, speeding up the process in relation to persistent young offenders, will have an effect on juvenile crime.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, referring to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, do the National Crime Statistics record offences committed by under-age children who cannot be charged in the courts? If not, should not some separate means be found of collecting information about the crimes that are committed by very young people, which appear to be on the increase?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I do not know the answer to that question. If the person committing an offence is below the age of criminal responsibility, I imagine that it is not recorded in crime statistics. I shall check on that and write to the noble Lord.

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