HC Deb 11 May 1984 vol 59 cc478-81W
Mr. Murphy

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will list the main policy achievements of his Department since May 1979.

Mr. Brittan

We have pursued a coherent and balanced strategy for dealing with the problem of crime, enhancing the effectiveness of the criminal justice system and strengthening public confidence in it.

We have greatly strengthened the police service. Since May 1979 the total strength in England and Wales has increased by 9,560 to 121,053 at the end of March 1984. During the same period the Metropolitan police have increased by 4,481 to 26,706.

In November 1983 I invited chief officers of police and police authorities to review their objectives and priorities and to ensure that resources are allocated, and police and civilian manpower are deployed, in ways which will most effectively and efficiently secure those objectives and priorities. I have asked Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary to monitor how the guidance in the circular is being implemented, and also to ensure that examples of good practice are widely disseminated.

Because public support for the police is essential, my predecessor issued guidance in June 1982 on consultation arrangements between the community and the police designed to encourage full discussion of issues of local concern and to strengthen community action in support of the police, especially in tackling crime. We have strengthened preventive action against crime in a number of ways. In 1982 the Department convened an interdepartmental group to consider the reduction of crime. Subsequently provision was made within the urban programme for funding preventive initiatives; a major seminar was held to encourage local preventive action and, in January of this year, a joint departmental circular issued with police and local authority support. We have strengthened the standing committee on crime prevention, established a crime prevention unit and are reviewing training for crime prevention.

In the light of the report by Sir Lawrence Byford, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, into the Yorkshire Ripper case, my Department has assisted the police in determining new procedures and improved training for the investigations of a series of major crimes.

We have continued to assist the police service in tackling serious disorder and in avoiding injuries to police officers by making available new protective equipment and supporting a thorough re—examination of training and tactics; and by the implementaion of a comprehensive public order training programme.

In the light of Lord Scarman's report, my department has taken forward, in conjunction with the police and local authorities, a thorough review of police training, including new programmes, to equip officers to deal with all sections of the public in a sensitive and effective way; to prepare new entrants better for their responsibilities as police officers; and to enhance the training given to other ranks of the service. Two specific achievements in the area are the new and extended programme of police probationer training, which was brought into operation in January 1984 and, in the fields of community and race relations training for the police, the establishment of an indepenent training support centre at Brunel university.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, now before the House, modernises and clarifies the powers available to the police for the investigation of crime, and, at the same time, provides new safeguards for the citizen. It rationalises and modernises the law on evidence in criminal proceedings. It brings forward new arrangements for dealing with complaints against the police, strengthening the independent element in the investigation of serious complaints and enabling the informal resolution of minor cases. It also provides a legal framework for police/community consultation.

In the Criminal Justice Act 1982 we strengthened the powers of the courts to deal with offenders, particularly those under the age of 21. To maintain public confidence in the measures taken to deal with crimes of violence, we made it known in October 1983 that people sentenced to life imprisonment for certain particularly heinous kinds of murder will normally be detained for at least 20 years; and we have severely restricted the grant of parole to prisoners sentenced to more than five years' imprisonment for offences of violence or drug trafficking. At the same time we have put in train measures to divert from custody those guilty of less serious offences, and are reducing from twelve to six months, with effect from 1 July next, the minimum qualifying period for parole.

We have given priority to the provision of adequate resources for the courts and other services dealing with offenders, while taking steps to increase the efficiency and cost—effectiveness of these services.

The number of probation officers in field posts has increased from 4,673 on 30 June 1979 to 5,329 on 31 December 1983; over the same period the number of probation ancillaries increased from 788 to 1,216. We have issued a statement of national objectives and priorities for the probation service, as a basis on which local services can construct their own plans and ensure that their own resources are deployed to the best effect.

We have opened 46 new attendance centres, including 15 senior centres.

We have announced our proposals for legislation to create a prosecution service independent of the police.

We have announced our intention of ratifying the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances 1971 and of bringing barbituates within the scope of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. We have also made clear our determination to find more effective ways of depriving drug traffickers of the proceeds of their crimes and have announced our intention to introduce legislation in this Parliament to provide for the confiscation of the proceeds of crime.

We have enabled local authorities to control the spread of sex shops and sex cinemas. We have given assistance with measures designed to restrict indecent displays, extend licensing controls to commercial cinema clubs, and to fulfil the manifesto pledge to establish a system of classification for video recordings which will deal with the problem of "video nastier".

We have strenghthened and clarified the powers of the courts to make compensation orders. We have revised the criminal injuries compensation scheme and have given financial support to the National Association of Victim Support Schemes.

We have improved management and operational efficiency in the prison department by, for example, introducing new systems of operational assessments and financial costing.

We have increased the number of serving prison officers from about 15,700 in 1979 to about 18,000. We have also made plans to increase the number further to 23,100 by March 1988.

We have begun and accelerated a major programme of prison building and refurbishment. Fourteen new establishments are currently under construction or in design. With an increased programme of maintenance and refurbishment, and better use of accommodation, we have provided more than 2,000 additional places over the last three years.

We have restructured the young offender custodial system in accordance with the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1982.

We have maintained firm, fair immigration control on the basis of the comprehensive revision of the immigration rules completed in 1980. The number of immigrants accepted for settlement has fallen and in 1983 was lower than in any year since immigration control was imposed on Commonwealth citizens in 1962. The British Nationality Act 1981 has brought nationality law up to date and defined for the first time who belong to this country and as British citizens are exempt from immigration control. We have continued our efforts to promote good community relations and to create a society in which individuals can share equal opportunities, rights and responsibilities.

In accordance with the provisions of the Broadcasting Act 1981, a fourth television channel has been established and new arrangements made for Welsh broadcasting. The Government set out in a White Paper their plans for a framework for the development of cable systems, providing both entertainment and other (including interactive) services; legislation to give effect to this framework, including the establishment of a Cable Authority, is now before Parliament. Meanwhile 11 cable pilot projects have been selected for early licensing, and approval has been given for existing cable systems to be used to distribute new programming. Plans for direct broadcasting by satellite are being carried forward, and the legislation before Parliament includes relevant provisions. Local radio continues to expand, and proposals for an independent national radio service are being developed.

The Data Protection Bill, which will shortly complete its passage through Parliament, will enable the United Kingdom to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on this matter.

We have reviewed our civil defence preparations, increased the resources available for them and brought into operation new regulations requiring local authorities to play their full part in civil defence planning.

We announced in January 1984, in reply to a report from the Home Affairs Committee (Cmnd. 9140), that we proposed to introduce a major Representation of the People Bill at the earliest possible opportunity. This will, amongst other things, extend absent voting rights to holidaymakers and to many British citizens abroad.

We issued, in May 1983, a White Paper on Scientific Procedures on Living Animals (Cmnd. 8883), which set out proposals for major new legislation in this field. These proposals would modernise and extend the law so as to provide more effective protection for animals used for the purpose of scientific research.

A committee of inquiry has been set up to consider proposal to amend the Shops Acts and will report shortly.

We have introduced a system of annual performance reviews which ensures that each part of the Home Office has an agreed programme of work and objectives to enable the Department's strategic aims to be achieved.