HC Deb 27 October 1995 vol 264 cc841-5W
Mr. Pawsey

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the work of his Department since 1990. [38075]

Mr. Howard

A wide range of actions have been taken:

  • to strengthen the police service in England and Wales;
  • to tackle crime through legislation, crime prevention, action on juvenile crime, and improving the efficiency of the probation service;
  • to enable the Prison Service to meet the demands on it;
  • to improve immigration control;
  • to develop co-operation with other European Union members.

The police service in England and Wales has undergone a major programme of reform since 1990. The main vehicle for the reforms is the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994. Its aim is to bring up to date the management, organisation and funding of the police service. The Act also introduced reforms to promote effective police performance and increase local accountability. It set up new free-standing police authorities which now include independent members. I have given up detailed controls over police staffing numbers and capital expenditure, and within cash limits it is now for police authorities and chief constables to decide how to spend their money. I set key objectives for policing in England and Wales to focus on major public concerns. Police authorities are required to consult the local community about the priorities for policing in their area, and to report back each year on how their force has performed. Police rank structure and remuneration have been revised and adapted to support the new structures.

A Metropolitan police committee consisting of a chairman and 11 members was established this year to advise and support me in my role as police authority for the Metropolitan police.

The number of police officers in England and Wales increased to 127,222 in March 1995, and the service is expected to grow by a further 500 officers this year. The number of officers of constable rank in the service has increased by 1,825 since 1990. Additional funding will be provided to enable chief constables to recruit an additional 5,000 officers over the next three years. Action has been taken to reduce administrative burdens on the police to free police time for core duties, and since 1990 some 3,500 officers have been released for operational duties through civilianisation.

A new police national computer has been installed to deal with increasing numbers of transactions. It was enhanced in May this year by the launch of Phoenix, the criminal justice record service, giving the police instant computer access to the national collection of criminal records. The police national network, a state of the art telecommunications highway of the police service, has been set up and the first ever national strategy for police information systems adopted.

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 provided for the setting up of a computerised database of DNA samples taken from persons charged or reported for a recordable offence. The database went live in April 1995.

The Criminal Justice Acts 1991 and 1993 strengthened the range and effectiveness of community penalties and provided a new statutory framework for sentencing. Courts are able to take into account previous convictions when passing sentence, and to impose longer sentences where necessary to protect the public from dangerous offenders. Powers have been introduced to enable unduly lenient sentences to be reviewed and increased. Maximum penalties have been increased for many offences including causing death by dangerous or drink driving, possession or distribution of prohibited weapons and making obscene or malicious telephone calls. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 contained a wide range of measures designed to tackle crime and protect the public, including restrictions on bail and allowing the courts to draw inferences from the silence of defendants in certain circumstances. Comprehensive national standards for the supervision of offenders in the community by probation and social services in England and Wales were introduced in 1992 and revised in 1995. A Green Paper "Strengthening Punishment in the Community" was published in March 1995 proposing that sentencers should have greater choice and flexibility in community sentencing, through the creation of a single, integrated community sentence. Separate programmes of action have also been taken to develop, implement and co-ordinate policies for tackling drugs misuse and domestic violence.

Legislation has also been passed to enable the United Kingdom to participate more effectively in international co-operation against crime; to combat money laundering and confiscate the proceeds of crime; to ratify the United Nations convention against the illicit traffic in drugs; to improve extradition arrangements within the European Union and between our Council of Europe partners.

Legislation has been passed to strengthen the law on obscenity, child pornography and video classification and to provide measures for dealing more quickly and effectively with squatters; to deal with so called "joyriders"; to improve the efficiency of the magistrates courts; to strengthen the powers of the Courts of Appeal in England and in Wales; to establish a Criminal Cases Review Commission to investigate and refer possible miscarriages of justice to the courts; and to give courts jurisdiction over offences of murder, manslaughter or culpable homicide committed as violations of the laws and customs of war in Germany or German-occupied territory, during the second world war, by those who at the time of their offences were not British, but who subsequently became citizens or residents in the United Kingdom. A bill has also been introduced to pave the way for a new scheme for compensating the blameless victims of crimes of violence.

There have been important developments in crime prevention. In 1993, the Home Office issued a practical guide to crime prevention for local partnerships which helps local communities to develop their own strategies for tackling crime. In September 1994, the Government launched the partners against crime campaign to increase the contribution of individuals in the fight against crime through membership of neighbourhood watch and the special constabulary. In September 1995, I announced a new grant fund for the special constabulary to help forces to increase their numbers of special constables.

The Government have encouraged the greater use of closed circuit television in the prevention and detection of crime. In 1994–95, £5 million in Government money levered in a further £13.8 million to fund over 100 new CCTV schemes across the country. In October 1995, the Government announced further financial support for CCTV schemes to provide 10,000 new cameras over three years.

In October 1995, I announced the establishment of a national crime prevention agency to bring together the key bodies in the promotion of crime prevention.

Steps have been taken to combat juvenile crime. Legislation has been passed to give the courts wider powers to deal with serious and persistent juvenile offenders, including provision for a new secure training order which will be available for 12 to 14-year-olds who persistently offend. Action is in hand to establish five secure training centres in which those sentenced to the order will serve the first half of their sentence. We have also acted to stop the inappropriate use of cautioning. In October 1995, I announced plans to set up a ministerial group on juveniles to consider ways of strengthening measures to prevent those children who are most at risk of offending from becoming involved in crime.

An efficiency scrutiny of probation service in-house training began in 1991 has been completed and implemented, and new arrangements for qualifying training and the recruitment of probation officers were announced this year. A major efficiency programme, backed by the introduction in 1994 of key performance indicators and the establishment of a national information system strategy, is on-going and will produce significant cash savings while maintaining a high quality of service delivery.

In addition, action has been taken to secure better co-operation among all criminal justice agencies and the legal professions. Acting on the recommendations of the Woolf report into the prison disturbances in 1990, the Criminal Justice Consultative Council was established in January 1992 and 24 local area criminal justice liaison committees some months later.

In the Prison Service, the largest new prisons building programme this century has continued with 13 new prisons opening since 1990. Competition has been introduced as a stimulus to better performance in the Prison Service, with four prisons now being operated by the private sector. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 put industrial relations in the Prison Service on a new footing by clarifying the legal position of prison officers and governors under employment law, confirming that these groups of staff have the same employment rights as other crown servants, while also confirming that it is illegal for them to be induced to take industrial action. The Act also allows for associated changes to be made to pay determination arrangements for the staff affected.

Since the Prison Service became an executive agency on April 1993, it has reduced the rate of escapes by 76 per cent., ended the practice of holding three prisoners in cells designed for less than that number; provided 24-hour access to sanitation for 95 per cent. of prisoners; and increased the amount of purposeful activity being undertaken by prisoners. A new system of release on temporary licence which came into force on 25 April 1995 has reduced temporary release failures by over 75 per cent. compared with the same period last year. A programme of mandatory drug testing in prisons and a new national framework of incentives and earned privileges, linking incentives to prisoners' behaviour, have both been introduced during 1995.

There have been a number of important improvements to the immigration control. The Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 has enable the average decision time for the asylum applications to be halved; further proposals for dealing with undeserving applications will be announced shortly.

The extension of visa regimes to nationals of a number of countries, the development of Carriers' Liability Act procedures, the increase in forgery detection rates and the introduction of a computerised suspect index have all strengthened the control. Revised shift patterns and the introduction of service standards at ports of entry have enabled the Immigration Service to cope with significant increases in both casework and passenger arrivals which rose from 47 million in 1990 to 63 million in 1994. Since November 1993, some 240 additional places have been provided in purpose-built accommodation for immigration detainees and a further 125 places will shortly be made available at a new centre at Gatwick.

Since 1990, close co-operation has continued with our partners in the European Union in tackling a range of common problems in the area of justice and home affairs. Before 1992, such work took place in a number of working groups such as those on immigration, the Trevi groups on police co-operation, the European committee to combat drugs and the judicial co-operation working group. This work resulted in a significant body of agreements and, particularly in the areas of police and customs work, the development of highly effective procedures for operational co-operation by member states. The third pillar of the treaty on European Union, which came into force in November 1992, brought this work within a unified framework and has enabled the tradition of intergovernmental co-operation on justice and home affairs issues to continue successfully. Four major conventions have been signed, covering extradition arrangements, fraud against the Community budget, Europol and the customs information system, together with a large number of important instruments particularly in immigration and asylum policy.