§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Snape.]
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)
It is unusual to choose the same subject for Supply Day twice in one Session. But we believe that there are special and compelling reasons why we should return to the subject of crime prevention, which we last debated on 27th January. First, the crime situation itself is worsening and is causing ever-increasing concern to our people. Secondly, in January we put forward some constructive suggestions to the Home Secretary and expressed some serious anxieties. Alas, our constructive suggestions went largely unheeded. But, as I intend to show, subsequent events have proved that our anxieties were fully justified. As a result, our fears for the future are much increased. Third, the last debate was overshadowed by other events of an immediate nature on the same day. Too few hon. Members were able to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.
Fourth, the Secretary of State for Scotland complained that that debate took place on a Thursday, which he declared was very inconvenient to Scottish Members. If he thought that I was unjustifiably rude to him on that occasion, perhaps he will appreciate that lasting malice is not part of my nature and that we are meeting him on that point this time. Of course, that will prove a double-edged benefit for him, as he will now have neither alibi nor excuse in facing the powerful arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor). I shall therefore confine myself to England and Wales, although some of my arguments—particularly those about our police force—apply to the whole of the United Kingdom.
Once again, we are seeking a constructive and wide-ranging debate to which we 229 hope, with ever-increasing desperation, the Government will respond. Unfortunately, the Home Secretary is not here today, because, as he courteously informed me, he is attending Her Majesty the Queen on her Yorkshire tour. However, I hope that the Minister of State will leave him in no doubt about the strength of feeling on this side of the House about the present position.
We considered carefully whether to express our dissatisfaction with a vote at the end of the debate, but we decided that on an essential national problem Parliament would meet our constituents' anxieties most effectively by making positive proposals rather than by indulging in the somewhat negative exercise of bandying the comparative statistics which critical debates tend to encourage. However, I am bound to say that if any Labour Members want to bandy statistics, they will have to make more effort to arrive in the Chamber to take part in the debate.
I trust that the Minister of State will make it clear to the Home Secretary that our patience is running out and that today we want clear plans for action from Ministers—not soothing words and pious platitudes. Any further lack of action will produce from this side of the House a critical and censorious attitude.
Figures quoted in the last debate showed that there was no room for complacency then. Alas, the crime figures published last week for England and Wales from January to March this year underline the serious situation, since they show a 10 per cent. increase over the same period in 1976. The harsh truth is that the Government are not fulfilling their first duty to uphold the law and to protect the lives, liberty and property of our citizens. So far, we have failed to bring home to the Government the full extent of their failure. In this debate, we have another change to galvanise the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Government as a whole into some real action.
The heart of any effective attack on the growing army of criminals must be a fully manned, well-equipped, contented police force which is convinced that it has the total backing of the Government, Parliament and the nation.
230 In the January debate, speaking of the unfortunate dispute over police pay, I said:As the Home Secretary knows, I have consistently urged him to deal with this as sympathetically as possible and today I shall say only that I trust that a fair compromise will be reached at the earliest possible moment."—[official Report, 27th January 1977; Vol. 924, c. 1738.]I do not intend to rake over the issues of the sad story since then. I simply record that no such compromise has been reached. Rather, there has been a tragic increase in bitterness, some harsh words have been used and some action has been taken in the heat of the moment in demonstrating against the Home Secretary which, whatever the provocation, I would not condone in any way. It is essential that we make a new start immediately.
Nor is pay the only issue. Our police officers certainly feel that they are underpaid for the duties and responsibilities which we place upon them, and they are right. But they are also concerned because they know that their service is under-manned and under-equipped. If the Minister of State harbours any doubts about that, let him reflect on what Sir Robert Mark said in his last report to the Home Secretary as Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis:The Force continues to operate under extreme pressure and it was with apprehension and dismay that, towards the end of the year, I read in Home Office Circular No. 191/ 1976 your views, in the light of the rate support grant settlement for 1977–78, on the reduction which should be made in certain manpower and expenditure on goods and services. The effect of reducing the strength of civilian support staff and cadets will be to neutralise many of the benefits which should have accrued over the last two years from the recruitment of police officers.Coming from Sir Robert Mark at the end of his period as Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, those are serious words which we cannot afford to neglect. The same story is told by chief constables all over the country.
Nor can the Minister of State ignore the reality that police officers are leaving the service in ever-increasing numbers. All this is happening when a 10 per cent. increase in crime, violence and disorder is placing an ever-increasing burden on our police.
There is also an element of ironic tragedy in the fact that police officers 231 should feel so uncertain about the future of their service at a time when increasing numbers of our fellow citizens are filled with admiration for the courageous way in which they seek to uphold the law and preserve our democratic freedoms. Therefore, the Home Secretary will have overwhelming backing throughout the country if he acts now to restore the full confidence and effectiveness of the police.
But whether the right hon. Gentleman does so or not, I should make abundantly clear the purpose of an incoming Conservative Government. In our document "The Right Approach", we declared that while in general we would seek considerable reductions in Government expenditure, we were prepared to spend more money on the police as a matter of priority for the protection of our citizens. We stand by that.
We have also made it clear that a Conservative Government will ensure for our police a scale of salary and rewards which will give them and their families the standing and position which their value to our society and their dedication to duty so richly deserve. To that end if we judge it to be necessary we shall set up another commission, such as the Willink Commission of 1962, to recommend what position in our salary scale the police should occupy.
We need to attract into the service first-class men and women from all sections of our society, and unless we have regard to their position in the salary scale and the sort of people whom we wish to attract, we shall never succeed in doing that. Furthermore, if this Government have not produced new arrangements for negotiating police pay in the longer term we shall certainly do so.
We would also end the cut-back of civilian support which takes police officers out of the front line, where they are needed, and puts them into administrative jobs. We would also end the cutback on cadets, which hinders the training and supply of future police officers.
In the January debate I expressed great concern about the situation in our prisons, and particularly about the morale of prison officers. Once again, subsequent events have reinforced those anxieties. I told the Home Secretary then about the frustrations of prison officers and the feeling that they expressed to me that their 232 views were not adequately considered by the Home Office. I asked him positively to involve prison officers in the serious examination of prison strategy and administration. I hope that the Minister of State will tell us what action has been taken since then. Have communications been improved? What discussions have taken place with prison officers?
I am glad that the Home Secretary has decided to publish the final report of the Hull prison riot. He owes it to the prison officers to ensure that it is published as soon as possible since many prison officers felt that the report by Preservation of the Rights of Prisoners—the PROP report—produced last month was extremely and unfairly biased against them.
A group of my hon. Friends and others, under the chairmanship of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner), has just completed a study of prisons and shortly we shall publish its report. Any review of our overloaded and overcrowded prison system must take account of sentencing policy, and the treatment of crime, particularly probation work and juvenile crime. Of course Parliament cannot and should not dictate to the courts. However, we are entitled to our view on sentences and we have a duty to prescribe guidelines in legislation.
There is widespread support for really stiff sentences for crimes of violence and terrorist action. Also there is a growing demand that rape should be more severely punished. Further, there is a strong feeling that for such offences presumption should be in favour of such sentences being fully served.
On the other hand, many of those who study criminology, including police and prison officers, believe that for offenders going to prison for the first time a short, sharp sentence in a disciplinary institution is far more effective than prolonged exposure to prison life in rest home conditions, where offenders are increasingly cut off from law-abiding society and simply learn new ways of breaking the law. Do the Government agree with that view? If so, what encouragement are they giving to this development.
Community service orders were introduced by the last Conservative Government and, under the expert guidance of 233 probation officers, have been proved to be a considerable success. I hope that the Government recognise this and will support the probation service in this valuable work as an alternative to prison for suitable categories of offenders.
Before turning to juvenile crime I make a plea for senior attendance centres to which magistrates could send certain offenders, particularly football hooligans. These are not expensive to set up or operate, and attendance for several Saturday afternoons running surely would be a valuable deterrent. if anyone doubts that, let me assure him that those of us who have had experience of extra military duties, including being confined to barracks, during military service remember only too well how much we disliked it, even though in my case it was many years ago.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Of course it was deserved. That gives me all the more reason to know that those who are sent to attendance centers—who would equally deserve it—would dislike it just as much as I did. The more you deserve it, the more you dislike it.
We are faced with the most worrying situation of all in juvenile crime. I mention only two of the many statistics that are causing great concern. In London alone in 1976, some 27,000 young people under 16 were arrested. They accounted for more than one-quarter of all serious crimes. On the national scene this depressing picture is duplicated. Almost half of all burglaries are committed by young people under 16.
I differentiate between first offenders—those who can still be saved from crime —on the one hand, and hardened young thugs, on the other hand. In the first category, many of the provisions of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 are valuable and are working satisfactorily. But frankly, they are simply not designed for the second category at all. Magistrates all over the country are crying out almost unanimously to get back their powers to lock up hard-core young offenders in secure accommodation where-ever this seems necessary. Their plea has been supported by the Select Committee on Public Expenditure in their report of 234 September 1975. This has also been urged by the Conservative study group, under the chairmanship of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde, in its report published last October.
I made the same point in the January debate, but the Government appear totally obstinate, and they refuse to act. I hope that the Minister of State will tell us why. Is the Home Office being overruled by the Department of Health and Social Security? If it is, let it take heart. The vast majority of people in the House and in the country would favour the change. As one police officer graphically described the situation recently, the only thing childlike about many young criminals is their birth certificates. It cannot be the job of social workers to deal with them. Surely the Home Office will take account of the views of magistrates with many different outlooks and experiences.
As more people are being robbed and beaten by these young thugs, the Government's position is becoming more and more incomprehensible to many people. If there is a good reason for inaction, we must listen to it. But for goodness' sake let the Minister say what that good reason is, otherwise we are entitled to say: "If so many people want action, what on earth is stopping the Government?"
Hon. Members and many people outside the House, including magistrates, are asking what the Government are doing. The answer is, "Nothing". Why do they do nothing? If the Department of Health and Social Security is pushing the Home Office from behind, obviously the Home Office is not doing enough to deal with the situation. The social workers are entitled to try to deal with first offenders and with those who can be brought back from crime, but they cannot deal with the hardened young thugs. The Home Office, the Departments in general and everybody else know this.
In the debate last January, I dealt at length with the importance of parental and home background in the fight against crime. My arguments have been powerfully reinforced by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary in his report for 1976. He pointed out that a great deal of petty crime is committed by juveniles. Sir James Haughton said that it was too easy to lay 235 the blame at the feet of the police. I am of the opinion that if there were a greater sense of responsibility in the arduous task of parenthood, far fewer juveniles would come to the notice of the police. A sense of respect for people and property starts in the home and continues through school. But school requires the active support of parents: unfortunately, that support is all too often lacking. Neither Government nor Parliament can say how parents should bring up their children, but I stand by everything I said in January on that subject, and I fully support the views of the Chief Inspector of Constabulary.
I believe that there is one positive action we can and should take. There is far too little liaison between parents and teachers, yet many parents are passionately interested in their children's education and upbringing. In my judgment, they are right to be so concerned. Many teachers would welcome more support from parents in efforts to maintain discipline, and again I believe that that is the right attitude. There are excellent parent-teacher associations, but I fear that there are not enough of them. Many are insufficiently supported.
I have now reached the age where I am prepared to take a view on matters on which I have only limited experience. It is a very good position to get into and it can be valuable. Accordingly, I believe that our educationists are at fault in taking the view that they know everything. They tend to dictate to parents what is best for their children, and in some cases positively discourage parental interest. That trend must be reversed. To paraphrase another saying, let me suggest that the upbringing of our children as good citizens is far too important a matter to be left entirely in the hands of educationists.
People are profoundly worried about the alarming increase in crime. They demand, and have every right to demand, the protection which it is the first duty of any Government to provide. If the Government act with speed and determination in launching a crusade against crime, they will deserve, and will receive, the full support of this House and of the country. But if they continue to feed our nation on a diet of inaction and platitudes—which, alas, has become their wont in all too many areas—they will rightly earn the 236 condemnation of all those law-abiding citizens who simply want to live their family life free from fear of the mugger, the burglar, the robber and the vandal.
§ 4.15 p.m.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Bruce Milan)
I am glad that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) said that the Opposition did not intend to vote on the motion. There is a genuinely large area of common ground between the Opposition and the Government on many of the matters mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman.
I do not accept his strictures on the Government, and I shall attempt to deal with some of those matters. However, I accept his general theme—that there has been an increase in the rate of crime that is worrying ordinary citizens, who expect a response from politicians. I hope to say something on that theme a little later. As well as dealing with the Scottish situation. I shall also deal with England and Wales. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, will try to pick up a number of the points when he replies to the debate.
We are dealing with an extremely wide subject and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not expect me to deal with every facet he has mentioned this afternoon. I hope that at the end of my speech he will find that I have dealt with much of the ground he covered.
I regard this debate as part of a continuing discussion of the direct and of the many indirect ways in which we can all contribute to the prevention of crime and to the attack on the generally upward trend in crime in this country. I shall say a word or two about that matter in a moment.
I should be sorry if in discussing this issue the tone of constructive comment were completely submerged in despondency. That would be unfair to those whose direct responsibiliy it is to combat crime. It would fail to take account of the contributions already made in many spheres to combat a rising crime rate, and it would be unjust to a country that can still be proud of its peaceful tradition. We rightly hear much about increased lawlessness and lack of respect for the law, about violence and vandalism, and it 237 would be hiding our heads in the sand to suggest that everything is as it should be. But it is still true that the vast majority of the community wants to abide by the law and to support it.
When speaking on 27th January my right hon. Friend, the Home Secretary drew no comfort from the fact that in England and Wales the figures for indictable crime known to the police seemed to be levelling out. He said then, and the whole House must agree with him, that the level of crime was anyway far too high. Not only must. I echo that feeling now but I must report the depressing fact that the figures look once again to be on the increase.
It is always dangerous to place any significance on the figures for a three-month period, but the increase of 10 per cent. in serious offences known in the first quarter of 1977 over the same period last year in England and Wales is extremely disappointing. In England and Wales there has been an increase in offences of violence against the person, of criminal damage and of burglary. On the other hand, it is encouraging to note that the number of sexual offences and of offences of fraud and forgery recorded by the police continues to fall.
In Scotland the overall increase in the first quarter of 1977 of crimes made known is 15 per cent. over the first quarter of 1976. I accept that this is a deeply disturbing statistic. One slight ray of hope is that the increase in crimes of violence in Scotland has been only 1.1 per cent. as against a 1.6 per cent. increase in 1976 over 1975—itself the lowest increase for a number of years. There is now some evidence that the increase in crimes of violence is slowing down.
I wish to make that point because crimes of violence worry people intensely, which is perfectly natural. I wish to stress that am not content with these figures. We shall not be content until we see a reversal of that trend and a fall in the figures. Whatever crumbs of encouragement we can find in some areas of the statistics, nobody will claim other than that overall the level of crime has risen throughout Great Britain, is rising, and ought to be diminished. This problem goes back many years.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow. Cathcart)
The Secretary of State has helpfully given some indication of the figures, but will he give the House a provisional idea of the number of killings and murders.
No, but I come now to the Scottish figures. The position in Scotland is not basically different from that in England and Wales, but there is anxiety in Scotland about the increase in crimes of violence in general and murder in particular. The number of cases of murder made known to the police in Scotland in 1976 was 63 compared with 47 in 1975. The provisional figure for all crimes of violence made known to the police showed an increase of only 70 in a figure of about 4,400. As I have already said, that figure at least is not showing the same alarming tendency to rise significantly.
I shall not comment on the murder figure in Scotland, except to say that it is very worrying and is located in particular areas. I shall say more about that in a moment or two. It would be unwise for the House, in looking at the whole question of crime and the prevention of crime, to pay too much attention to the murder figures. They are extremely serious and worrying, but the House on many occasions has taken a view as to the kind of punishment it considers appropriate.
I have said that there has been an increase in crimes of violence generally of about 1.1 per cent. But that masks an 8.8 per cent. increase in such crimes in Strathclyde and a decrease in the rest of Scotland. I make that point because while it would be facile to say that crimes of violence are a product of urban deprivation, it is certainly true that they occur much more frequently in urban areas, especially in the larger industrial cities, such as Glasgow, Liverpool and London. I therefore believe—my only serious criticism of what the right hon. Gentleman said this afternoon is that he did not mention this—that we must look at these crimes in a wider context than simply that of criminal activity. We must relate them to general living conditions.
In saying that I am by no means being complacent—rather the opposite. While it is true that many citizens living 239 in many parts of the country are not directly personally affected by the rising crime rate, it is equally true that there is a significant minority, largely those living in the bigger cities, who are affected every day of their lives by the rising crime rate and for whom crime generally —in many cases petty crimes of vandalism, petty theft, burglary and the rest —makes their lives an absolute and perpetual misery. One of the disturbing features of the crime position is how far that is true in many of our larger cities. It is something which I, as an urban Member myself, have very much in mind in our approach to the question of dealing with crime.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the importance of the police. Again, I accept absolutely everything that he said about the important role that the police must play in any attack on crime. I want to say something about the resources devoted to the police, because I believe that there have been comments in the newspapers and elsewhere that are inaccurate. I accept that the police service is facing difficulties resulting from the measures we have taken to restrain public expenditure. These measures affect all public services, but the police service has been treated relatively favourably.
Total expenditure has not been cut but has been increased in real terms to allow police authorities to recruit police officers freely up to their present stablishments—again a point not always sufficiently recognised outside. Thus, despite the restrictions on public expenditure in the current financial year, the Government are prepared to spend on law, order and protective services £280 million more at constant prices than in the last year of the previous Administration, 1973–74.
As a result, total police strength in Great Britain has increased by over 7,000 since the beginning of 1975. Much of that increase occurred in the areas where there had previously been the greatest deficiencies in police strength. In London, for example, the Metropolitan Police took 1,300 of the increase that I have just mentioned, although recent recruitment figures in some areas have been very disappointing, and I am sorry 240 to record that the overall Scottish trend has recently shown a reduction.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I understand the figures that the right hon. Gentleman has been giving, but is it not now a fact that the number of police officers leaving the service in many if not most forces is greater than the number of police officers joining? Therefore, is there not a net reduction either taking place or in prospect in many of our overstretched forces?
I have already said that the figures for Scotland have shown a recent decrease. That is not something that I find acceptable. There may be forces in England and Wales in which the same situation applies, although one cannot make a generalisation from one police authority to the whole of the service.
There are a number of reasons, including a substantial retirement rate because of the age structure of the police, with which we have had particular difficulties within the last year. Another reason is morale, which is related to police pay. One of the disturbing results of the unhappy episode over police pay in the past year is that there has been a loss of morale in the police force. The Government as well as the Opposition are anxious to see morale restored as rapidly as possible.
I wish to refer to the kind of reports one occasionally sees in the Press—for example, the alarmist reports that detectives in the Metropolitan Police are going slow and refusing to perform overtime. I understand that there is no truth in such reports. Operational matters in the Metropolitan Police are the responsibility of the Commissioner. I shall not go into the matter in any detail, but I am informed that the financial provision for overtime in that force as a whole this year is the same as that made last year.
The Strathclyde position has been given a good deal of publicity in Scotland over the past week or two. May I make it quite clear that there was no instruction or encouragement from the Scottish Office or from me to police forces in Strathclyde or elsewhere to reduce their overtime? Those matters are the responsibility of the regions concerned. The Strathclyde position is difficult because its force is one 241 of those that the hon. Gentleman mentioned that have had particular recruitment difficulties in the past year, and therefore the numbers have gone down.
The regional council is now looking for a way of switching expenditure to improve the overtime position to make up some of the deficiencies elsewhere. It talked originally about increasing the police budget by about £2 million. I see that the figures talked about more recently by the regional council are rather less than that. But I want to put on record that these are matters for the council to decide. If it decides to spend more money on overtime, that money will be matched by police grant. This is not always completely understood. In summary I would say that, although the police service, like other services, has suffered from financial restrictions, there is still—particularly because of the special mechanism of the police grant—considerable scope for individual police forces to meet their particular problems even by increasing expenditure, which will automatically attract additional Government assistance.
I shall not go into the way in which the police can improve, and are improving, the disposition and deployment of their forces. While total manpower is obviously extremely important, some of the other developments in the deployment of police forces in England and Wales are very encouraging in terms of giving better police coverage and doing a more effective job. Some of these developments have depended on the way in which the Government have been involved.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to police pay. The Government also believe that it is important that the police should be properly remunerated for the difficult and often dangerous, work that they do on behalf of us all. I shall briefly go over the history of the last year. The Police Federations for England and Wales and for Northern Ireland, but not Scotland, left the Police Council, their negotiating body, in July 1976 and have declined to return. I shall not go over the events that followed that, but I should point out that on 19th May the Home Secretary announced the Government's intention to award the federated ranks of the police service an increase of pay in line with the guidelines for Phase 2 of the Government's pay policy. We felt it right to make that award, even with- 242 out the concurrence of the Police Federations, because we were aware that the protracted discussions had meant that the police had received no increase since 1975 and that delay should not continue any longer because of the effect on, among other things, police morale.
In spite of the history of the past year, it is important that the police and the Government should turn their attention to what can be done, now and in the future, for the pay and conditions of the police. I should like to mention one or two matters in relation to that.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
No doubt the right hon. Gentleman has noted that there is a Prayer on the Order Paper about the Government's imposed pay settlement. When do the Government propose to provide time for us to take that Prayer?
I cannot answer that without notice, but I take note of the point. It is not my wish that we should not discuss the matter, but I shall have to take advice on it.
The Police Council has set up a working group which is seeking to establish the current facts about the levels of police pay, and an up-to-date survey is being made of police earnings. I hope that the considered views of the working group will become available within a few weeks. I regret that the Police Federations for England and Wales and for Northern Ireland have declined to take part in the work of that group, but I understand that they are producing material in support of their claim for a substantial award in the next round of pay policy. However, I hope that the steps that have been taken will provide a reasonable and objective starting point so that when police pay falls for review on 1st September we can have realistic discussions. The House will not expect me—particularly this week—to comment further on the position today.
The Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and I intend to set up a review of the police negotiating machinery. I am sorry that I have not been able to make an announcement on this before, but we were anxious, for obvious reasons, to have consultations with all the bodies concerned before stating the terms of reference. I am now able to announce the terms of reference 243 to the House. They are long and elaborate, but they are intended to allow a proper review of the matter to be carried out.
The terms of reference are:To review the machinery for negotiating those matters relating to pay and conditions of the police service in the United Kingdom now dealt with by the Police Council, having regard to:I believe that will particularly commend itself to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths)—
- (i) the interests and responsibilities of all the recognised representative bodies for the police service;
- (ii) the interests and the responsibilities of the Secretaries of State and police authorities for the efficiency, good management and financing of the police service;
- (iii) the special position of the police service as a disciplined service responsible for the maintenance of law and order; "—and to make recommendations.I hope that the composition of the review body will be announced soon and that it will start work quickly. We want to receive the report and recommendations of the review body as soon as possible so that we can obtain an agreed negotiating machinery introduced quickly. We have strongly in mind that the next pay date is 1st September and that there is really no time to lose. However, I hope that the review body will be able to get on with its work fairly quickly.
I should now like to refer to a matter that was also mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, namely, our policies for criminal justice and, in particular, for the treatment of offenders. The police obviously have a most significant part to play in the control and prevention of crime. However, they must have the full backing of the community and, in a more formal sense, of the criminal justice system and Parliament. While there are many arguments about the role that sentencing plays in deterring potential offenders and no doubt that harsh sentences alone cannot solve the problem of crime, it is vital that the courts are given adequate powers to deal appropriately with those who come before them.
In general there is little complaint that the maximum prison sentences that the courts may pass are too short. For serious offences it is appropriate that the long sentences should be available to the 244 courts. That is another point upon which I agree with the Opposition spokesman. On the other hand, an interim report recently published by the Advisory Council on the Penal System on maximum penalties—in relation to England and Wales —argues that, in the vast majority of cases, which are not serious crimes, significantly shorter prison sentences would be equally effective as longer ones. No doubt if we could achieve that, we should relieve pressure on the prisons and enable them to do their job more effectively with serious offenders and those who have offended on many previous occasions.
On the courts' powers to imprison, the Minister of State for the Home Department is bringing forward an extension of the existing system for England and Wales. A new clause on the Report stage of the Criminal Law Bill tomorrow will give the courts power, when passing a sentence of imprisonment, to order that part of it be spent in custody and that part be held in suspense to be activated if the offender commits another offence during that period. The new power will, if used properly, extend the scope of the court's power in a novel way. I do not want to go over the argument on this because the matter will be dealt with tomorrow, but this recommendation is strongly in line with the point that was made by the Opposition spokesman.
For many offenders a fine is the most appropriate penalty and it is important that the courts should have adequate powers of fine available to them. For that reason, the maximum fines that the courts may impose in Scotland on summary conviction of common law offences are increased by the Criminal Law Bill from £100 to £200 for district courts and from £150 to £1,000 for sheriff courts. Incidentally, the increased fines will be available for dealing with football hooligans. Of course, the Bill also raises the penalties for many statutory offences in England and Wales and for some in Scotland.
With this Bill and in other ways we are trying to improve the range of sentences available to courts, to bring sentencing policy and fines procedures up to date, and to allow the courts the maximum scope and availability in sentencing. While the House can guide the courts, however, ultimately sentencing policy is a matter for the courts themselves.
§ Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
In trying to broaden the scope of potential sentencing in Scottish courts is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the wide criticism that has been made about the community service orders that are now being introduced in Scotland? The Government have not yet brought forward proposals to give such orders a statutory basis and, as a result, the courts are more reluctant to use them than they would otherwise be.
§ Mr. Millan
We are introducing these orders experimentally in four Scottish regions. I understand and accept the point that the hon. Gentleman has made, but I was just about to make a few points about possible Scottish criminal legislation. Giving such orders a statutory basis would be part of any Scottish criminal procedure Bill. I am working on a review of possible legislation dealing with criminal procedure and treatment of offenders, but I am not in a position to announce decisions.
However, there are two issues to which I should like to refer. On criminal procedure we have had the great assistance of Lord Thomson and his committee, who have been looking at criminal procedure in Scotland, and the Prime Minister recently announced the setting up of a Royal Commission to consider aspects of the criminal prosecutions system in England and Wales. Lord Thomson and his committee have made a thorough and comprehensive examination of the procedures of the courts in Scotland and have made 195 recommendations.
They found the procedures generally satisfactory, but obviously they also found scope for considerable improvement. I do not pretend that all the recommendations are without difficulty. Many are controversial, but many have received a general welcome as improvements of existing law and practice and I hope to incorporate them in new legislation at an early date. We are working hard on that.
The second issue to which I want to refer in the legislative context is the use of imprisonment. We have a special problem in Scotland. As I have already mentioned, imprisonment is not thought to be an appropriate sentence for the great majority of law-breakers —neither 246 in the interests of society nor in the interests of the offender. Although the Scottish prison population has decreased slightly in 1976 compared with 1975, I should like to see it decrease further.
In Scotland it is less easy to legislate to exclude imprisonment as a disposal available to the courts for a given crime or offence, because so much of our law is common law. Under common law there is no restriction on the penalty available. The Lord Advocate has the discretion as to the court in which the accused is to be tried. The maximum penalty for a common law offence is determined by the maximum penalty available to the court before which the accused appears. District courts can impose prison sentences of up to 60 days. The sheriff court can impose sentences of up to three months on summary conviction—with six months in some cases—and of up to two years on indictment. The High Court can impose any length of prison sentence.
My concern is to ensure that people should not be sent to prison for short terms where imprisonment is not an appropriate disposal and I am considering how we in Scotland, given this difficulty, should seek to restrict the availability of imprisonment as a disposal available to the courts in the range of less serious common law offences—for example, breach of the peace, which is a common law offence and under which many persistent drunken offenders are given short prison sentences.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)
I do not follow the right hon. Gentleman's logic when he says that because, fortunately, many of our crimes are still subject to common law, this necessarily means that prison is the only alternative. In considering the important reforms that he is anticipating, will the right hon. Gentleman consider ways of making the sentences of more serious offenders who have to be imprisoned shorter, but infinitely less pleasant? This would be preferable to the present absurd escalation of "It was six years, I'll give him eight years" or "It was eight years, I'll give him 10 years" which makes no contribution to making anyone less likely to commit a crime.
That is a point of view, but I am not sure that many hon. 247 Members would agree that this is the way to deal with the most serious offenders. We must also remember that unpleasant prison conditions can mean unpleasant conditions for prison officers as well as for prisoners.
I was not saying that there was no alternative to imprisonment for less serious offences, but since they are common law offences there is no way, without converting them all into statutory offences, which would be an elaborate procedure that would be disliked in Scotland, of excluding prison sentences. I am anxious to find a solution to the problem.
I have mentioned this problem for the sake of completeness but also to make known to the House the fact that, in approaching the problem of crime and the community, we are well aware of the concern about the problem and of the role of the police. We are not indolent on the question of sentencing policy in England and Wales or, I hope, in Scotland.
We have to look at the problem of crime in a wider context. The police not only accept that fact, but implement it because the way in which community liaison has been built up throughout the United Kingdom is an interesting and profitable example of how police officers have widened their rôle of influence in the prevention of crime in a way that the traditional rôle of policeman cannot discharge. I pay particular tribute to the many imaginative things done by police forces through community development.
Our most serious and worrying problem is crime in urban areas where we are often dealing with rootless and disaffected young people. The recent increase in youth unemployment has made this problem even worse. We have to look at this in a wider context, too. We have to get the whole community involved in the fight against crime. The problem has to be dealt with in schools. We are expecting a report soon on truancy and delinquency and I hope that it will give pointers to the future, because adult delinquency often starts at school and carries on from there.
We must also recognise the importance of parents attempting to influence their children and to guide them in general standards.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
When does the right hon. Gentleman expect to receive the report on truancy and delinquency? We understood that he had already received it.
I should have said that we expect to publish it soon. It is a lengthy report, but we expect to publish it along with a number of other reports affecting schools in Scotland.
The causes of crime are many and varied. Part of the problem appears intractable. There are no easy solutions. There must be activity on all fronts. The Government are taking action with the police and criminal justice legislation. In all this it is important that we have the co-operation of the community and the vast majority of citizens who are law abiding and who wish simply to be able to live peaceful lives without this continually increasing crime rate that is so damaging to the fabric of our society.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I thank my right hon. Friend for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) for his important speech, which will be studied carefully by every police officer in this country and certainly by the Police Federation. I regret the absence of the Liberal Party from this debate, but I congratulate the Secretary of State on taking some of the sting out of what might have become a very irate debate.
However, no one listening to the right hon. Gentleman and his effective deployment of figures and details would have imagined that over the past three or four weeks more than 140 police officers have been injured at Grunwick's, that as we sit here a large number of postal workers are breaking the law, and that—I am grateful to the Daily Mirror for this compilation—the following serious crimes are committed in every hour of every day in England and Wales alone: 71 burglaries, 177 crimes of theft, 17 frauds, 11 criminal damage cases, two robberies, 10 crimes of violence and three sex crimes. No one would have imagined, listening to the Secretary of State, that such is the situation every hour of every day in England and Wales.
The volume of crime has gone up enormously. It has increased 10 times 249 since just before the war. In 1960 there were 750,000 crimes, this year there will be 2½ million. The fastest growing industry in this country is almost certainly juvenile crime. More than 250,000 persons under 21 were found guilty of offences last year, 24,000 of them under the age of 14. Nearly 50,000 juveniles were found guilty of serious offences by the higher courts. Juveniles are responsible for a large proportion of crime in our big cities. In London, juveniles committed half the recorded burglaries, two-fifths of the robberies and motoring offences and well over one-third of shoplifting offences.
I suspect that better reporting of crime and keener definitions account for some of the increases in the crime statistics. The statistics also reflect the fact that we have more legislation, more vehicles, more immigrants and racial problems, and certainly more unemployment, particularly among the young.
I believe, too, that there is another factor. There is a decline in our moral standards. We are reaping the bitter harvest from a generation of "could-not-care-less," and an over-permissive society.
§ Mr. John Page
I have been wondering about juvenile crimes. Can my hon. Friend tell us how the 11 to 16-year-olds dispose of the goods that they have stolen? If they steal money or transistor radios they can keep them, but if a 15- year-old boy goes into a shop to sell a lot of silver spoons someone should ask more questions. Are we doing enough to catch these offenders?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I cannot answer that. I am certain that the police service will take note of what try hon. Friend has said.
Another major change has been in the character of crime. It has become more violent, with muggings, gang beatings and assaults, particularly on the police. In 1976 there were 77,000 criminal assaults, which is 1,500 a week, or more than 200 a day. This year there will be more. Assaults on the police are now running at the rate of 12,500 a year, 4,000 of them serious. Quite apart from Grunwick's, an average of 40 policemen a day now suffer personal injuries sufficiently serious to win them compensation 250 from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.
Crime has become more complex. Drugs and fraud cases may involve hundreds of detectives for long periods. Crime is also becoming more political. There are terrorist crimes, with the IRA and Palestinians, and politico-industrial confrontations such as the Grunwick dispute.
The worst feature of the crimes committed at Grunwick's are the assaults on the police. I offer the House two examples. One is that of a young constable who was knocked to the ground and lay on the pavement bleeding and unconscious for 10 minutes with his head cradled on a police overcoat. During the time that he was unconscious he had to be moved twice by his colleagues while waiting for the ambulance, because the demonstrators were pushing dangerously close to his body. The second example —of which I do not have personal knowledge, but I believe my source—is of another young officer knocked to the ground just as Mr. Scargill appealed for calm. As he lay on the ground his arm was stamped on, and it was almost certainly that which broke it.
The Police Federation—with which I have a connection—this afternoon demanded from the Prime Minister an unequivocal Government condemnation of the violence that has occurred outside the Grunwick factory. It said:The number of police officers injured is a national disgrace. Those responsible for organising Monday's demonstration must share accountability for the behaviour of the thugs, whose one aim was to attack the police and attempt to overwhelm them.The whole police service is proud of these London police officers. They have acted throughout with great courage and shown remarkable restraint in the face of provocation. However, the Grunwick affair is placing an intolerable strain on the Metropolitan Police. I quote again from the Police Federation's statement:The Government should now ask the trade union movement not to mount any further large-scale demonstrations on this issue. Their own trade union officials are incapable of restraining the lawless elements who turn up on these occasions and it is no good deploring violence after the event.I believe that the vast majority of hon. Members will be in complete agreement with that statement.
251 I now turn to the question of the police morale. In the past year the Government have handled the police with great insensitivity. They have dealt harshly and unfairly with them over pay and have failed to keep police salaries and conditions of service in line with the Royal Commission's recommendations or with other occupations. They have been dilatory in setting up an inquiry into police pay, although I was glad to hear the Secretary of State's announcement of the terms of reference. I hope that he will rapidly announce the names of the chairman, who I trust will be a High Court judge, and the names of those who will sit alongside him.
Above all, the Government have failed to give the police the open public support that they need and deserve. When the tide of crime is rising the number of police officers is falling. While the work load of the individual police officer is increasing, sometimes to breaking point, police incomes are declining. While whole areas of the country are seriously under-policed, recruitment has been slowed down or stopped and cadet enlistments have been halted. Limits have been placed—often quite absurd limits—on the mileages that police cars are allowed to do.
Meanwhile, Ministers urge the need to let more criminals out of prison earlier, and the need to reduce sentences and release on parole criminals who the police have in some cases risked their lives to arrest and convict. I do not doubt that there are reasons for many of the policies announced by Ministers, but in the eyes of the ordinary policeman, who is underpaid, overworked, knocked about by rioters and abused, these measures, taken together, are a source of deep discontent.
Nor is that the whole of it. While the police are up against it, what positive contributions have the Government made on their behalf? We have the Bail Act, which makes it easier for an offender to be released and we have the Police Act, which will encourage people, especially the old lags, to complain against the police and to get them suspended from duty. And while the police face the present round of violence, the Government have this week distributed into every police station a new document explaining how to make it easier to complain 252 against the police. On such occasions it seems to me that Ministers are out of their minds.
In these circumstances police morale is at the lowest point that I can recall. There is a mood of despair and, in some cases, of near revolt. Some of the consequences were seen at the Scarborough conference, where there was an ovewhelming vote in favour of the police having the right to strike, in the ugly scenes that my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border fairly said he regretted, and most recently in the undoubted unrest in certain parts of the CID. But worst of all is the evidence that many police officers are now voting with their feet.
The House may be interested in some figures which I believe I can make known for the first time. Since January 1976 Greater Manchester has lost 289 men, Cumbria has lost 57, and Dorset 116. Other figures are as follows: Kent has lost 273; Lincolnshire 84; West Midlands 171; Humberside 227; West Mercia 120; Northampton 91, I could go on. This is the loss from the police service of the officers we need to guard our society against the men of crime and violence.
The Secretary of State was good enough to say that he hopes that in phase 3, if there is such a thing, the police service will be able to reach agreement on a new pay settlement. I hope so. I must tell him, however, that the way ahead seems to me to be long and exceedingly difficult. Let me explain to him what the Police Federation, as the elected body representing virtually the whole of the service, expects to see next September.
First, the police expect in phase 3 to see restored the full purchasing power of the Willink standards set in 1960. They want a proper career structure and decent differentials. They want pay scales that recognise the unique personal dangers now faced by the police service, and pay that reflects the police officer's constant commitment to the office of constable and the contribution that he has made over recent years to greater efficiency.
This package would amount to a major uplift in police pay. I know that it will not be easy to achieve, but I believe that anything less could leave our 253 country and its citizens bereft of effective protection.
I conclude with another appeal to the Government over the kind of violence that we have witnessed outside Grunwick's and of which there will be other such examples. I ask no Minister to back the police uncritically; but I ask all Ministers to back the police unmistakably.
The Prime Minister has a special responsibility here. He has held the same post with the Police Federation that I hold now. He should tell the public clearly what he and his right hon. Friends know to be so, that those who have been responsible for most of the violence at Grunwick's are not the genuine trade unionists but the anarchists and the revolutionary Socialists, who are using every device, including the deliberate injection of racial hatred and attempts to suborn the police, to bring about a breakdown of law and order.
Secondly, the Prime Minister should say out loud that all those who encourage picketing on a scale that of itself involves both intimidation and threats to public order are aiding and abetting the anarchists. This goes for trade union leaders who call upon armies of pickets and for hon. Member who deliberately make the work of the police more difficult.
Finally, the Prime Minister should say that when violence is used to break the law the police are in duty bound to use counter-force to contain it. The enforcement of the law means exactly that—the use by the police of minimum force but force which in all circumstances is sufficient to ensure that the law breaker is arrested and brought to justice.
I can understand the Government's reluctance at this point to upset the TUC. The issue of law and order, however, is too important to be set aside or bartered away in any last-ditch search for a phase 3 pay settlement. I believe that the Prime Minister knows that, and I ask him, within the wide context of this debate, to stand up and be counted on the side of the law and the police.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Terry Walker (Kingswood)
In any consideration of the prevention of crime it is what we are doing to deter crime that interests ire most. I believe 254 that we have a duty to protect the law-abiding citizens of this country who want only to lead peaceful lives. It is important that we in this House should do all we can to support moves to that end. I take note of the remarks of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). I shall not attempt to follow up his points on the police. He knows much more about them than I do—
§ Mr. Walker
I agree with my hon. Friend. However, we need to consider the rôe police and the way in which they are organised.
Irrespective of the pay that the police receive—we have heard a great deal about that in the House and we have had representations about it from the Police Federation and from policemen locally—the policeman's lot is not a happy one. Over the past few years various unwise changes have been made in the organisation of the police service. The decision to take policemen off the beat was disastrous. The Panda car idea has been an utter disaster.
The policeman on the beat had a status in society, and that was important. He had local support. Everyone in a village knew the policeman. That was the case in Hanham, where I live. Everyone would support him. Unfortunately, there are now a few lads driving around in Panda cars, with the result that no one knows where the policeman is if they want to contact him. Local police stations have been closed and people have to travel many miles to reach the police. The telephone is not necessarily the answer, because many people who want information are not articulate enough to use the telephone, and in any case it takes a bit of time to walk to a telephone box.
I believe, therefore, that the changes that have been made in the past few years have thwarted the efforts of the police service. At this time we need a copper on the beat who is active in society.
The police are now facing problems of violence within each small society. The fact that policemen are no longer available on the streets is one of the problems in the increasing climate of vandalism that is so worrying to us all. Complaints have been made to me by policemen about the cut-back in administrative jobs 255 in the police service. Policemen have to be transferred from the beat to do administrative jobs in offices, thus depleting the work force of available men who can tackle the job on the streets. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will refer to that issue when he replies. It has been raised with me on a number of occasions and I believe it to be relevant to the situation in which we find ourselves.
We need to have more policemen, but we need to rethink the way in which we shape our police forces locally. It is certain that there will be a pay increase under stage 3, but we must consider future conditions in the police service. More importantly, we must consider the way in which we tackle that job. We should not be afraid to say that we have made mistakes in the past, as we should not be afraid to say what we should do in future.
I believe that we must build up the prison service. For many years I have been associated with a junior detention centre near Bristol. Since 1967 I have been a member of the board of the Eastwood Park Junior Detention Centre. At one time before entering the House I was its chairman. The way in which we have changed the service over the years has not been well thought out. There are certainly flaws to be seen in the way in which we have proceeded. In 1967 our view of detention centres was that they should provide a short, sharp shock for young offenders. That view has changed, and it was right that it should change, but I sometimes think that we have gone a bit too far. Perhaps we have turned detention centres into rest homes or holiday camps. It has been said to me that perhaps the only thing that we do not have at detention centres is the "redcoat".
I take grave exception to the decision to increase remission for those in junior detention centres from a third to a half. Surely that was not justified. Detention centres are places where we hope to make something of first-time offenders. They are not places to which we commit hardened criminals. They are places where we should show first-time offenders the life that they can expect if they continue in their life of crime. Deterrence was the message that came across under 256 the old régime. I know that it needed to be reformed, but perhaps we have gone too far. Certainly we have gone too far in respect of remission.
The crimes that are now committed by young people—especially crimes of violence and some forms of stealing—are those that need to be tackled by taking the offenders out of the community for a time. That time should not be too short. but it should not be too long. Their crimes must be dealt with outside society, and dealt with in a proper manner. That is the only way in which members of the probation service and the social services can go to young persons to try to work among them. It is not always possible for that work to be done in the home.
In junior detention centres there are a large number of football hooligans. It is important that the various agencies should have time to deal with them properly. In an enlightened society we want to cut out all barbarism. It worries me that sometimes we ride upon the storm and are too worried about what happens to those who commit crimes rather than those who are the victims.
Last weekend I called upon a lady of 90 years of age, in my constituency. Someone had broken into her home. Those of advancing years do no want that sort of thing to happen, because it upsets them for a long time. They have to face that upset because of the action of another.
We must give consideraion to the way in which discipline in schools is organised. I know that that is not a responsibility of the Home Office, but I think that parents need to support schools and discipline in schools much more than they do now. Support should be given to headmasters and teachers who act properly. Again, perhaps we have gone too far.
Crimes of violence are on the incerase and the question of this debate is how we can prevent them increasing. I believe that we must rethink many of the things that we have done in locking up people and organising the police service. That is important if we are to overcome the problems that face us in the community and are ever-increasing. That is what we shall have to come to terms with if we are to bring down the crime rate.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thompson (Galloway)
I had not expected to be called so early in 257 the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."]—but I am deeply grateful to you for calling me. I was not asleep. My pen has never ceased to run swiftly, as the psalmist says.
I agree with the Secretary of State that this is not a debate in which to make party points, as it deals with a subject that concerns all of us as citizens. It seems that the best deterrent is a police force with high standards of behaviour and high morale. It is essential, therefore, that police pay should recognise the value to the community of such a force. Policemen run risks that most of the rest of us do not. They run those risks in our service.
At this stage I strike a couple of rural notes. I agree with the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker) that one of the sources of petty crime, even in our villages, is the loss of the village policeman. It is not that he necessarily detected such crimes in the past. The fact is that such crimes were not committed, because the policeman was known to be in the village. He had his ear very close to the ground and if necessary he could pick up an offender very rapidly after the event when complaint had been made.
I appreciate the reasons for the loss of the village policeman. The policeman today rightly demands fixed hours and proper time off. Most of the rest of the community enjoys those conditions. The policeman can no longer be expected to work an 18-hour day when the rest of us—politicians apart—do not work such a long day.
Sometimes people complain to me that when they have gone to the policeman's house with a complaint he has told them that he is off duty an that they should come back in a couple of hours when he is back on duty. People often go along to the police with minor complaints. I suggest that in such cases they should have some regard for the policeman.
On a more general issue—the Secretary of State touched on this matter—over the last two and a half centuries Scotland has decanted much of its rural population into the great cities. I wonder whether it has been necessary. It should have been possible to plan our industry so that the small towns grew larger, and then the great cities would have been avoided. However, that is history. Never- 258 theless, when I hear our European partners praise the common agricultural policy and refer to moving people off the land into the towns, I wonder whether we should ask them to contemplate our experience and suggest that they have second thoughts.
I have been a rural dweller for most of my life. I know that crime in rural areas is much less than in urban areas. If there is a murder in Dumfries or Galloway it is a matter of horror to the whole community, because such a crime is so rare.
Rural communities are able to contain minor crime. The young people are known. Therefore, it is unlikely that they will get away with offences that might escape detection in places where young people are not generally known in the community.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I think that the hon. Gentleman has contradicted himself. He said that there was a rise in the crime rate in villages because of the absence of the village policeman. He is now saying that the crime rate in rural areas is less than in urban areas. There is a slight contradiction there. Is he saying that it is necessary for the policeman to be present in the village to contain crime? Does not society come into this matter? Should we not be concentrating on that aspect?
§ Mr. Thompson
The hon. Gentleman may feel that he detects a logical discontinuity in what I have said. I assure him that certain petty offences that are committed nowadays would not have been committed in the days of the village policeman. In rural communities the youngster who commits petty crime is usually known and can be recognised and speedily apprehended. We do not know how many youngsters are deterred from committing crimes on the spur of the moment for fear of being recognised.
I agree that in relative terms there is an increase in crime, but rural areas are better at keeping it under control. At times a warning by a policeman or senior member of the community may have the desired effect, without the necessity for prosecution or a formal complaint.
I turn now to the question of education. It is obvious that if we can help children to grow up with a sense of 259 responsibility and with some grasp of the need for law in society we shall help to stop crime before it begins.
We learn from educational psychologists and others who specialise in child development studies that it would be a good idea to make sure that pupils are given some education for parenthood. We suspect that many personality defects arise from the early experience of the young child—even the baby. If by giving serious education for parenthood we can avoid some of these things happening we shall be contributing significantly to this matter. I agree that we cannot foresee the effect of every factor in child development. However, we should make young people aware of the effect that they, as prospective parents, can have on their children.
As a former school teacher, I often felt that I was expected to do a great many things that the parents ought first and foremost to have done for their children. It is amusing to hear parents saying to their children "Just you wait until you get to school. The teacher will sort you out." The parents should have been engaged in the sorting out process. It is not desirable to encourage parents to believe that school can make up for the defects in their children's upbringing that they have brought about.
I want to turn to two aspects of Scottish crime that particularly worry me. The first is the rôple played by alcohol in the commission of crime. Is there not a case for banning all television advertising of alcohol—not only spirits, but beer? If beer drinking is portrayed as a manly, with-it pursuit—I drink beer and enjoy it, but I trust that I never drink to excess—will it not lead to excessive consumption to obtain the effect that the young person has been led to expect by the advertising?
I find it odd that we should compel cigarette manufacturers to mark their wares with a health warning but allow the brewers and the distillers to purvey their wares without any such warning.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that criminals on the whole tend not to drink because, if they commit crimes when they are drunk, such crimes are easily discovered by the police?
§ Mr. Thompson
That intervention has taken my breath away. I cannot see its relevance to what I have been saying.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)
Are the hon. Gentleman's views on the denunciation of drink and the withdrawal of drinks advertising on television official SNP policy?
§ Mr. Thompson
My views are not official SNP policy. I do not think that they are anybody's official policy. I take it that in such a debate as this an hon. Member may express views that are not necessarily the views of his party. However, it is perfectly reasonable for any hon. Member to ask whether these views are the views of my party. I do not think that any votes are to be gained from what I have put forward. I think that there is good reason to reflect on the incidence of crime in Scotland due to the consumption of alcohol. I am sure that we all know that alcohol is a factor.
The abuse of alcohol leads to a great deal more human misery than the abuse of tobacco. However, I think that it is right to commend the brewers on their campaign to cut down and, if possible, eliminate under-age drinking, because that is a serious factor in crime in Scotland.
The second aspect that I should like to mention relates to the rôle of violence in Scottish crime. I have no doubt that some of the violence is linked to the abuse of alcohol. Assaults with bottles and broken glass are obviously connected with drink.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
As a member of the temperance group in the House of Commons I am delighted to hear what the hon. Member is saying about the dangers of drink. I am not the only member of that group; there are two of us. Does the hon. Member not think that it is unfortunate that one of the few positive actions of the SNP in the Glasgow Council was to suggest that a bar should be built in the city chambers?
§ Mr. Thompson
I am glad that I have no responsibility for what happens in the great city of Glasgow. I am sure that the people to whom the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) refers will, as always, give consideration to what he has said.
261 I know that there are psychologists who tell us that watching scenes of violence on television or in the theatre helps us to get the violence out of our systems. I do not believe that. I am sure that some youngsters are at least at times motivated to criminal activity as a result of having seen such activity on the television screen. Should we not have another look at the perennial problem of violence on television?
In the prevention of crimes of violence is there not a case for giving the police the power to stop and search for offensive weapons? The existence of such a power would have a deterrent effect. From the Scottish newspapers it is plain that far too many youngsters make a practice of carrying offensive weapons—partly out of bravado and partly out of the need, they say, to protect themselves against other youngsters who carry offensive weapons. That means that the number of weapons being carried continues to increase.
What is Government's thinking on the possibility of implementing the suggestion in paragraph 90 of the memorandum "Crime and the Prevention of Crime", published by the Scottish Council on Crime in 1975?
Many more things might be said. I have played my part in the debate if I have raised one or two aspects of crime in Scotland that I find particularly worrying. I hope that the result of the debate will be to help the House towards a policy that will begin to eliminate crime. We cannot totally eliminate it, because we do not know sufficient about the sources from which it arises either in the individual or in the community. A serious debate on these subjects from time to time enlightens us and shows us where we should go.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
We have heard a lot today, and I am sure that we shall hear a lot more, about the escalation of crimes against the person and property. As someone who accepts those statistics, I believe that a new approach to crime prevention is necessary if we are to deal with the problem.
Today we assign responsibility for crime prevention to the police forces. Yet we seldom think of the other organisations involved in crime prevention such 262 as the private security industry and the private non-commercial police.
Shrinking budgets have led to cutbacks in the public police forces in many areas. That, coupled with an increase in crime, has led to a widening gap between crimes and the effectiveness of the police to handle them. The police are overstretched. There are many areas that they are unable to cover. There are many others that they are not obliged to cover nor want to cover. It is in these latter areas that the private security industry is able to play an increasingly large and important part. As I said during a previous debate I have no interest to declare.
One of the most viable approaches that we can take is to make better use of available resources. We must make the other sectors of crime prevention function better. The cost of doing that would not be excessive. The licensing or registering of private security firms is a prerequisite to raising the standards of crime prevention. The cost of licensing would have to be borne by the firms which sought to be registered or licensed. The taxpayer, therefore, would not be burdened with the expense.
We have not yet recognised the private security industry as a natural and acceptable response to increases in crime. Many people regard the industry as a private army that wields power that is both unwanted and unchecked. Perhaps I subscribed to that view when I began to make a study of the subject. Now I believe that the industry will be with us for a long time and that we must seek to regulate it in the interests of both the community and the industry.
The private security industry is expanding, and in almost every country where it exists the number of private security officers considerably outnumbers the official police. In London and other major cities one is more likely to see a vehicle with "Securicor cares" going past than a vehicle with "Metropolitan Police" on it. That is an indication of the number of official police compared with the number of officers in the private security industry.
§ Mr. Ivor Clemitson (Luton, East)
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) was talking about voting with feet. Has my hon. Friend any figures or information about how many vote with 263 their feet by walking into the type of private security companies about which he is speaking?
§ Mr. George
I think that there are some police who leave the force with a cloud over them and that they sometimes tend to end up in the private security industry.
We must look at the total picture of crime prevention. We must look at all sections of the economy engaged in private crime prevention services including the private non-commercialised police, by which I mean those attached to Government Departments, public bodies or local authorities. I want to look, too, at the whole private security industry. By that I mean guard and patrol services, security consultants, private investigators, armoured car and courier services, services related to the provision of security equipment and, finally, proprietary or in-house security.
We have not yet realised the rôle that these sectors can play. I have spoken on two previous occasions in the House about this. I do not want to go over old ground, but the more I examine the subject the more I believe registration and licensing to be inevitable. The sooner that is accepted the better.
The private security industry, as I defined it earlier, employs in excess of 150,000 people. There must be a public registration board, as there is in many other countries, to regulate the industry. That is because of the ease with which individuals with serious criminal records can penetrate the industry as employers or employees. The incidence of that is alarming, though one should not be guilty of exaggeration.
We are all aware of the £2 million Heathrow robbery last July in which a security guard with a very long criminal record who was working for an American company, Purolator, took part. The sooner he is extradited from Switzerland to face charges, as his colleagues have done, the sooner we shall appreciate the need for licensing.
Not long ago an article was published in a newspaper in the Midlands, the Sunday Mercury, in which it was asserted, in response to a communication by a policeman in the West Midlands police who has remained anonymous, that in a 264 private survey conducted at the request of the Home Office it was found that one-third of the employers of small security companies in the West Midlands area had previous criminal convictions. I wonder whether that will be verified by the Home Office.
I am presently compiling a dossier for presentation to the Home Office, although I believe it is the Home Office and the police that have the information. It is certainly not easy to provide the information that the Home Office might require.
There are so many examples, however, and this is a small sample. A gentleman named Alan Davis, an armoured van guard with Security Express, aided a gang in the successful ambush of his security van, carrying £40,000, a couple of years ago. There is a great danger in the industry of what are called "sleepers"—namely, people in the industry tipping off people outside about the transmission of money. This obviously causes those transmitting money a lot of anxiety.
Then there was a security guard working at Christie's, the auctioneers, who was found to have a previous criminal record and to be guilty of deception. He was dismissed.
An investigation agency in the North-West was set up by a man with convictions for fraud. He advertised on his stationery that he was an expert at fraud detection. He should be—he served four years' imprisonment for fraud.
There was a security company in Northampton one of whose employees burned down a part of Northampton, causing £130,000 worth of damage and got life imprisonment. Another person, not one of my constituents but a person working in a factory in my constituency, got rather bored and set fire to the factory he was ostensibly guarding.
Then there was a Mr. Pace, working for SOS Security of Covent Garden, who was convicted of robbery. It was his job to go around silencing faulty alarms, but while doing so he also knocked off some of the goods.
A northern security company has been set up by two men recently released from Strangeways Prison. A Midlands detective agency has been offering bogus and spurious diplomas, and a struck-off solicitor is running a detective agency. We have all heard of the goings on of the 265 likes of the Quartermains and the Withers of this world.
I do not want 1:0 give the impression that the majority of people working in the industry are criminals. They are not. They are basically very honest. However, the ease with which people with serious criminal records can get into the industry is quite alarming.
§ Mr. John Page
I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman with the greatest interest. I just wonder how he feels that any kind of regulation or registration of security firms would stop employers from employing people who have criminal records. Surely they try now not to do that.
§ Mr. George
Some do; some do not. I shall come to that point later when I discuss the way in which it could be done. I shall not forget the point.
My main argument for licensing or registration is not the argument of criminality. It is the argument of inefficiency. Given the right framework set by the Government, the industry could perform its functions much better. At present, with low salaries and poor working conditions—and I have spoken to trade unionists seeking to organise within the industry—there is a very high turnover of staff, and in many cases there is little or no training. This all leads to ineffective performance, public mistrust and the contempt of the police in so very many instances.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
If the proposal of the National Council for Civil Liberties, which has such sympathy on the Government side of the. House, to expunge people's records after three years were implemented, surely it would be even easier for such persons to become employed, or to set themselves up in this way, or even to get employment in insurance companies.
§ Mr. George
I cannot speak for the NCCL, but I am certain that its fears of 100,000 men running around in uniform are probably much greater than its fear of over-stringent checks that might be made on prospective employees.
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)
The question of the record is absolutely fundamental. If greater access to the Criminal Records Office were allowed 266 to employers in cases of this kind, and to the relevant councils that would be charged with the task of issuing licences, these difficulties would be quite easily dealt with. Is part of the hon. Member's argument that improved access to the Criminal Records Office should be part of a licensing procedure?
§ Mr. George
My answer is that which I gave to the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page): I shall come on to that point later.
My main argument in favour of licensing is the need to improve the competence of the industry. As minimum guidelines for the operation of the industry have yet to be established, the less reputable companies can easily undercut their competitors by trimming back or eliminating training and supervision. I have seen a number of smaller companies as well as the larger companies operating good training schemes. One must not assume that merely because a security company is small it is necessarily inefficient or that it contains criminals. I have seen some excellent small companies.
What is absolutely vital is that in this industry registration will improve training. I have seen the training programme of Group 4 and the programmes of the International Professional Security Association and of the Master Locksmiths Association, and those of the two reputable private investigation associations. It is high standards we must seek to attain. Therefore, I believe that training will significantly improve performance within the various sections of the industry.
The Government should offer me support on this matter because there are 30 Government Departments or public bodies that employ security companies. I recently wrote a letter to a number of Government Departments asking how many security firms they employ, the extent of their duties, the value of the contracts and the method of selection of the companies. My investigations so far have revealed that 16 Government Departments spend also £1½ million a year on contract security companies. Obviously, therefore, as Government Departments are employing these companies, I should have thought that it was better in their interests if the screening 267 procedures available to companies operating in this industry were improved.
To overcome some of these difficulties it is vital that a system of licensing or registration is established—a twofold system of licensing, firstly for the companies seeking to set up in business, and, secondly, for the individual employees. If this were established it would raise the standards of competence within the various sectors of the industry. It would establish public accountability. We have heard much of the public accountability of the police. I do not see why the police should be subject to public scrutiny while the private security industry should be immune from it. It would improve it if we had licensing.
This would also improve employment conditions for the estimated 150,000 employees. It would minimise the opportunities for those with serious criminal records to enter the industry and would provide greater protection for the consumers of security services and the public.
What I envisage is the ultimate establishment of a registration council for the private security industry, representing the many sections of the industry, the police, insurance companies, trade unions, consumers of security services and the public. However, the registrar of my proposed private security registration council would have not only a responsibility for registering applicants. He would not be simply a passive observer, simply licensing. He would be playing a positive role in encouraging and participating with the industry in improving its standards. He would really be a catalyst for improvement.
I have said that companies would have to meet the registration standards. This would mean that people who are setting up in business as private investigators, manufacturers of safes, alarms and locks consultants, and contract security companies would have to demonstrate to the registration council that they had an adequate training, retraining and supervision programme. They would have to demonstrate that they had an adequate selection and vetting procedure. They would have to show that they had an adequate insurance to cover any misdemeanours or mistakes by their employees, and many other things. If a company met the 268 requirements of the registration authority, a licence or registration would be granted, and every three years it would have to reapply for registration.
Therefore, I believe that the companies concerned would have to meet higher standards. Many of them would be able to meet those standards without any difficulty. Many would have to raise their standards. Those which could not raise their standards would simply go to the wall, and no one would regret their passing.
As for the individual applying for a job, there must be scrutiny by the registration council. The applicant would go along in the ordinary way to a prospective employer and fill in a form giving his details. The company would then go through its own checks by writing to previous employers. Only when it wished to employ that person would it send on the application form to the licensing authority. It would be the licensing authority, not the individual company, that would have access to criminal records.
The registration authority would have to define very carefully who would be eligible and who would be ineligible. It would be futile to pursue a man needlessly in regard to some small misdemeanours committed some years before. It is very important to define these criteria of who should be excluded, but the onus must be on the company to reject or select a future employee, and then the checks would be mounted ultimately by the licensing authority. If that were done the industry would be more efficient.
§ Mr. George
It would be the Home Secretary's responsibility to decide who would be involved in the licensing authority. Obviously, some members of it would come from industry and some would not. It might meet the fears of the hon. Gentleman if we were to keep out politicians.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
There seems to be some hilarity on the Opposition Benches and some disbelief in the ideas put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). Is it not the case that the Law Society 269 is the body for policing the activities of lawyers, and that doctors police their own profession? Why should it be such an outlandish idea that those involved in private investigation and security should be responsible for their own profession?
§ Mr. George
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. Anyone wishing to practise as a chiropodist, or to open a riding school, or to be a publican or a doctor, must meet the requirements either of a public licensing authority or a private licensing authority. That is self regulation by the professions. This is quite necessary and inevitable. The support that I have had from all sections of the House and from the industry is testimony to the need for public licensing for the private security industry.
There is a section of the industry which does not fit easily into my definition—namely, in-house security. If we were registering companies simply because they offer a service "for hire or reward", maybe we should not want to include the many tens of thousands of people working for private police forces in industrial concerns. Looking at it in that way, maybe we should not want to include them, but if we look at it from the point of view of crime prevention, there is no logical reason why these tens of thousands of security officers, many of them belonging to the excellent association, the International Professional Security Association, should not be subject to these same conditions as those working in contract security. In the case of industrial in-house security, only the individuals would be licensed and not the company employing them. Whereas it would be possible to strike off a poor contract security company, one could hardly close clown a major company because it had a poor security force. It is logical, therefore, that these individuals should be included in the registration process.
Another area of crime prevention to which we in this House have paid very little attention is that of the private non-commercialised police. I am very concerned that there are 15 forces attached to Government Departments and public and semi-police bodies in local authorities, with many of the attributes of policemen but few of the advantages. There are, for example, the Ministry of Defence Police, the United Kingdom Atomic 270 Energy Authority Police, and over 2,000 British Transport Police. There are also the various police attached to port authorities, and many others. The standards here vary enormously. In some cases, putting it politely, they are not as high as those of the police. We have heard how bad things are for the police. In this sector conditions are infinitely worse.
Inspector Mast of the British Transport Police wrote in the Police Review of 4th April 1975:Unfortunately, at the moment the standards of some are not comparable to the police, either due to the fact that their conditions of service, training or equipment are not as they should be, or that their thinking is not forward enough for them to appreciate their position and rôle as part of the police service.It was put rather more brutally in the latest edition of Political Quarterly by Tom Boaden:They are hest understood as a species of uniformed janitors or a slightly elevated corps of commissionaires.Some may not entirely subscribe to that analysis, but here we have thousands of officers with conditions of service, salaries and pensions which, in many cases, are inferior to those of the police. There should be greater rationalisation in this sector of the non-commercialised police. Why not put for example, all these separate port police authorities into one national ports police authority?
It is vital that the gulf between these police forces and the national police force should be narrowed. There must be better training. Why not centralise the training? Their rôle could then be much better defined, and pay, conditions and pensions could be improved. There must be much closer integration between these private police bodies and the police, and much closer integration between the various police forces themselves. If this can be brought about we shall have gone a long way to reducing crime in these sectors covered by these special police forces.
A solution to all this is at hand. On Thursday a Private Member's Bill, the Private Security Registration Bill, that I have introduced will be published. I hope that the Government ultimately will accept it. I acknowledge that the prospects of this necessary legislation being passed this year are rather slight. but I 271 have not given up hope for the next Session
I have a number of specific requests to make to the Minister. There must be much more research done and more information made available. That is a prerequisite to successful legislation. The case for registration is undeniable, but the form that it should take is open to different interpretation. I hope that some form of committee of inquiry can be established as a prelude to succesful legislation, which should be introduced by the Government rather than a Back Bencher.
I hope that the Minister will look at the research that is being done in other countries which have taken the subject of private security much more seriously. I hope also that a meeting can be arranged between the Secretary of State and myself so that some of my suggestions can be discussed.
I believe that if my suggestions relating to the private security industry are seriously considered and acted upon, and if we in this House appreciate there are other people than the police performing the tasks of combating crime, then we shall go a long way to allaying the worries and fears of many of our constituents.
Millions upon millions of pounds are expended by society on combating crime. If these scarce resources are properly used, and if every arm of crime prevention is functioning properly, we can make a much more significant impact on crime prevention and crime reduction.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)
The prevention of crime has, I suggest, three facets to it. The first, surely, is that we should endeavour so to order our society, so to run our individual lives and, in particular, so to educate and bring up our children, that people will not resort to crime in the first place.
Of course, it is wishful thinking to expect that we can expunge crime altogether. I do not think it can be denied that of recent years there has been a lowering of standards of honesty and morality. The first step, surely, should be a return to some of the basic values and standards of conduct. That would help to remedy the situation.
272 I suggest that the responsibility for this rests upon us all. After all, corruption and immorality in high places, and the condoning of law breaking by those in positions of responsibility, do not create the best climate in which to promote support for the law and the condemnation of those who seek to break it.
I hope that these standards, to which we should return, will be based on some religious belief—preferably, of course, Christian, although I accept, naturally, that other religions offer standards of conduct that some of us might do very well to emulate.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
I hope that in suggesting that people should go back to earlier standards the hon. Gentleman will take account of the fact that many people, such as myself, who are not religious, uphold very real values in society, and that the concept of humanism is as important as Christianity or any of the other so-called formal religions.
§ Mr. Sims
The hon. Gentleman has anticipated my next comment. I was not, I hasten to add, Mr. Deputy Speaker, wishing to get involved in a philosophical discussion, but I accept that there are others who nevertheless regulate their lives by certain standards. That is the important thing, and surely the basic of those standards should be consideration for other people. If we all did that the problem would largely disappear.
But given that there will always be some people who are inclined to commit crime, surely the second facet that we have to consider is how to make the committing of crime more difficult. For a start, it is up to individuals and companies to make their premises, cars and property secure. It is up to us to ensure as far as possible that public property is relatively vandal-proof and that generally speaking the opportunities for the criminal are limited. But above all the best deterrent against crime must surely be the policeman.
There can be no better way of dealing with crime than to ensure that we have a police force that is adequate in size, that is contented and that is well paid. But the fact is that at present our police force is none of those things and this Government must accept a great deal of responsibility for that.
273 The third facet that I should like to deal with is the way in which we cope with the potential criminal. The truant schoolboy, the lad who shoplifts, the youth who joy rides with his mates in someone else's car, the football hooligan and the petty thief are the people whose conduct shows that they are a potential danger. How we handle them at that stage will decide whether they become really hardened criminals or normal members of society.
There is, of course, a clear distinction in fact and in law between the young person—the person in the 10–16 age group—the young offender—in the 17–21 age group—and the adult. For the older offender, prison costs the taxpayers just under £4,000 a year per man. It is generally understood that in most cases a man who goes to prison is rarely a better citizen when he leaves and returns to the community. Prisons undoubtedly have a rôle to play within our penal system, but they have a very limited rôle in the category that I am speaking about, in particular the younger first offender who has to be diverted from a life of crime and the latent criminal who has to be prevented from becoming a confirmed criminal.
The answer must be that wherever possible we should deal with those sorts of people within the community. They must be treated in some other way than locking them up. There are a number of alternative courses open to us. I am bound to say that I am not entirely satisfied that the Government are tackling all these with quite the conviction that they would like us to believe.
Fines are, of course, one way of dealing with offenders, bat they serve only a limited purpose, because if the person concerned is not employed he cannot pay, and he may well simply choose not to pay. I welcome the introduction into the Criminal Law Bill of the provision whereby, when a fine is imposed, a date will be stated by which time that fine must be paid. I also welcome the imposition of increased fines for a variety of offences. The Prime Minister gave particular emphasis to increased fines for football hooliganism, but what happens if the fine is not paid?
At any rate, with regard to the younger offender—the juvenile—provision is now 274 being made in the Criminal Law Bill that the chap who does not pay his fine must be sent to an attendance centre. But the alternatives with regard to the older offender are very limited indeed. One of the other ways in which we can deal with offenders—
§ Mr. Clemitson
The hon. Gentleman referred to football hooliganism and fines. Does he think that increasing fines is really an adequate or appropriate way of dealing with a problem like football hooliganism? Does he not think that there arc other more appropriate ways of dealing with it—for example, preventing the young people concerned from going to football matches by doing other things on a Saturday afternoon or evening, or whenever the football matches take place, which may be of benefit to the community and, indeed, to themselves?
§ Mr. Sims
The hon. Gentleman again anticipates me. I am coming to that point. I was going to point out that one of the most valuable ways of dealing with the first offender is by probation. It is a relatively inexpensive way of dealing with offenders. I pay tribute to the work done by the officers of our probation service. They have an extraordinarily difficult job to do. It is a job that puts very great strain on their emotional and family lives. It is very much a one-to-one job. We owe them a very great debt for what they do.
Alas, the Government chose to freeze the size of the probation service from last autumn. This inevitably means restricting the quality and the extent of probation work. It also means that community service orders, to which reference has already been made, are virtually frozen. There can be no prospect of increasing the number of community service orders—with the success that they have undoubtedly had in the last two or three years—unless we have more probation officers in order to implement them.
It seems to me that this aspect of Government policy is quite extraordinarily shortsighted. It means that the offender who would have been subject to a probation or community service order may well not be made the subject of such an order because the facilities are simply not avail- 275 able. Either he goes to prison, with the unsatisfactory outcome and the expense to which I have already referred, or he is dealt with in some other way, which may be less effective. It may well be that in the fullness of time he offends again and, as a result, may go back to prison.
Various alternatives and variations to prison and the probation service were proposed in the Younger Report—the Advisory Council on the Penal System—with particular reference to young offenders, those in the 17–21 age group. The report suggested the custody and control order whereby the offender would spend a short time in prison and a longer time thereafter under a relatively close form of supervision. The report also suggested a stronger form of probation order as an alternative to prison.
Those were just two of the valuable suggestions in that report. That report was published in July 1974—three years ago. To put it mildy, Government reaction has been disappointing. We have had no debate on the report as such. On two occasions I have been promised by the Leader of the House that we should have a debate, but nothing has eventuated. I have raised the topic on a number of occasions, but in February, in reply to a Written Question, the Home Secretary indicated that he intended to take no action for the time being on either of these two recommendations.
One can be forgiven for wondering whether the Government really do care about the non-custodial treatment of offenders when they show this relative indifference to a very important report. Having said that, I welcome straight away what the Secretary of State said today about the introduction of a new clause in the Criminal Law Bill, which we shall be looking at tomorrow, with regard to a part-served and part-suspended sentence. But as I read the new clause, it applies only to adult offenders. What about the 17–21 age group? What about the young latent criminal, the worst hooligans and the worst offences of vandalism? No provision appears to be made for them in the new clause that we shall be discussing.
Meanwhile, the Government continue the anomaly whereby young men in the 17–21 age group charged with violent offences can be dealt with by the court 276 either by a maximum of three months at a detention centre or a minimum of three years in prison, with nothing in between. Despite the efforts of my hon. and learned Friends and I during the Committee stage of the Criminal Law Bill to persuade the Government to think again about this, they still will not do so. We are stuck with this extraordinary anomaly, whereby there has to be a larger or unreasonably long sentence for this particular age group.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
My hon. Friend and I have both served on the Committee considering the Criminal Law Bill. The absurdity of this requirement, which the Committee has presently put back after the House of Lords took it out, was alleged to be that if people in this category could be sentenced only to less than six months or more than three years, one would affect the prison population figures, which are now unacceptable. But there surely could not be a worse basis for punishment. It has no foundation in logic or justice, it has no purpose, and it is the principal provision which gave rise to the recent case, which in turn led to the extraordinary incident when the left wing of the Labour Party asked for greater punishment for an unfortunate criminal. It is that idiotic provision which gave rise to the problem.
§ Mr. Sims
My hon. and learned Friend is quite right. Even stranger, that provision is part of our legal structure because, although the Government said that the matter would be put right by their implementation of the Younger proposals, they have not implemented them and apparently have no intention of doing so.
§ Mr. John Ryman (Blyth)
While the hon. Gentleman is on that important point, will he bear in mind the fact that judges, both in the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, and at first instance, have repeatedly said that they deplore the fact that they have no discretion in the matter and are compelled to pass either an absurdly lenient sentence or what they consider to be a wildly excessive sentence, and that therefore, in fairness to the defendant, they pass absurdly lenient sentences, which do not have the desired deterrent effect?
§ Mr. Sims
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Normally Parliament 277 lays down the maximum sentence and leaves particular sentences to the courts, but for this age group Parliament has deliberately restricted the courts' options, and even when we try to put the matter right the Executive prevents us. But we shall keep trying.
I support the reference by the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker) to detention centres. As he said, the idea has been altered. Originally, detention centres were intended to give a short, sharp shock. I do not dispute that they serve a purpose, but they do not provide that shock. It is unlikely that there is now any institution in our penal system which can do so. Yet for some offenders a relatively short sentence in disciplined conditions is appropriate.
§ Mr. Neil Carmichael (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
The short, sharp shock certainly existed in Scotland until very recently. It was very short—about three months—but very sharp. But has the hon. Gentleman any evidence that such a system has produced better results than other methods?
§ Mr. Sims
I do not think that experience of the original detention centres—in England and Wales at least, which is what I know—was long enough; nor was sufficient research done. Also, the courts did not always send the ideal type of offender to detention centres.
I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) said about senior attendance centres. The Minister of State and I have had differences of opinion about this system, but it seems particularly useful to make offenders in the 17 to 21 age group to do what the hon. Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson) suggested and spend their Saturday afternoons doing something to benefit the community. According to the Minister of State's figures, the system costs about £3 per man per session, which is minuscule compared with the costs of prison.
It is extraordinary that, although this system runs successfully throughout the country for the juvenile offender—there are at present 60 centres and the Government propose another 10—there are only two senior attendance centres, one of which was opened in 1958 and the other, in Greenwich, in 1963. They were set up by the Home Office as an experi- 278 ment, but that is as far as they have gone. Since no one else seemed to be bothering, in 1971 a group of London magistrates set up their own inquiries into the question of the attendance centre. One of their recommendations was administrative changes and another was an increase in the number of such centres. The response of the Home Office has been absolutely nil.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Brynmior John)
I do not want to prolong the hon. Member's trailer for tomorrow's debates on this subject, but does he accept that it was the advice of the Advisory Committee on the Penal System—which was set up to advise us on these matters—not to extend senior attendance centres? The picture that he is painting of sheer inertia is not true.
§ Mr. Sims
I said that that was a recommendation of the report with which I did not and still do not agree. However, the Minister said that the Home Office intended to close those centres, but it has not done that, either. It has not been logical. It has set up these centres and increased the number of junior centres, yet it has taken no action on senior centres. All these are ways of dealing with those over 17.
The House will know my views on the Children and Young Persons Act. It is extraordinary that the Government, having accepted a number of the recommendations of the Expenditure Committee—all credit to them for that—have refused outright to accept its most important recommendation, that of restoring to the courts some of their powers to decide on the disposal of the child. If the Government do not take positive steps soon to provide adequate secure accommodation for the young criminal and give juvenile courts adequate powers to deal with young delinquents, not only the magistracy but the whole nation will lose such confidence as they still have that this Government have the ability or even the willingness to control crime, let alone to prevent it.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West)
I fully agree with the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) that it is scandalous that pickets at Grunwick's should be attacking policemen who are there to 279 uphold and enforce law and order, but I thought it strange that he made no mention of a certain Mr. Ward, who was equally denying the right of his workers to join a union if they desired. The hon. Gentleman put all the emphasis on the pickets.
I should like to put forward a solution that I have described before to the problem of mass picketing. It is wrong that 200 or 300—or even 2,000 or 3,000—pickets should be on a site, sometimes paid to take a day off work, with their expenses met, to travel to a site and picket a factory where they do not work and of which they had probably never heard before. It is bound to lead to trouble.
The solution is that pickets should be restricted to the people who actually work in the factory where the strike takes place. If this were done, there would be a lot less trouble. The police could easily handle the situation, and there would be no difficulty and very little violence. Any troublemaker appearing purely for the purpose of making trouble could be identified easily and dealt with by the police.
These mistaken trade unionists who imagine that they are coming all these miles in order to champion the rights of people to join trade unions should realise that the effect of what they are doing is the opposite of what they want. They are turning ordinary people against trade unions. I wish that they would get it through their heads that they should stay away from these sites, stop the mass picketing and get on with the job that they are paid to do—that of mining coal instead of being paid to take a day off work and stand in the picket lines causing trouble. It is not only the miners; others have joined in as well. But the miners have rather a record of this sort of thing now, and it is an unhappy one from a trade union point of view.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kings-wood (Mr. Walker) made the astonishing statement that the police Panda service is a disaster. I do not know why he has got this idea. I believe that, as criminals become more sophisticated and use more modern methods, the police must do the same in order to combat crime. One of the biggest steps forward was when the police became so much more mobile, 280 much more easy to contact through a 999 call from any telephone kiosk, and were given two-way radios to summon aid as necessary fairly quickly. We should be concentrating on giving the police the most up-to-date and sophisticated equipment we can afford. This is the way to detect crime. It is not a disaster as my hon. Friend says, and it is better than the old system of the man on the beat.
§ Mr. Andrew MacKay (Birmingham, Stechford)
Does the hon. Member agree that no amount of sophisticated equipment can make up for the personal contact of the bobby on the beat?
§ Mr. Doig
I am amazed that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. MacKay) can really believe that when we merely had men on the beat they detected every crime that was ever committed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Very often it was difficult to find the man on the beat. The most common complaint was that one could never find a policeman when one wanted him. That is true even today. Personal contact has very little real benefit other than in country villages, where one can always get the policeman because one knows where his house is. That does not apply to the city.
The quickest way to get a policeman in the city is to go to the nearest telephone box. With two-way radios and Panda cars, policemen can be on the spot in minutes. I remember an occasion when I was walking in the street in Dundee with a corporation official and we saw a person stealing something. We picked up a telephone and reported it to the police, and before the criminal had run to the end of the street the police had arrested him. That was truly remarkable and it all resulted from a telephone call.
The trouble today is that too few people are willing to make that telephone call. In a way I do not blame people entirely, because there are reasons for the unwillingness. How often does one see a photograph in the paper of a person who has informed the police, and a dangerous criminal has been apprehended as a result? I have seen a young girl's photograph in my local paper with her name and address underneath. That is asking for trouble. I have begged the police not to publish this sort of information but somehow it keeps appearing. That is the reason why more telephone calls are not 281 made. The police are, in effect, preventing themselves from getting valuable information from the public because the public are frightened of having their names, addresses and photographs in the newspaper the following morning. The police should do their damnedest to prevent that happening in order to get the co-operation that is to vital to the detection of crime.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I know the hon. Member's interest in the protection and treatment of witnesses. This matter is fundamental to the concept of public scrutiny of the law. If the court were to be empowered as a matter of normal procedure to withhold the names of witnesses—this may be desirable or undesirable—it would be a very fundamental change in the system and one which should be studied closely.
§ Mr. Doig
It is a change that I would make willingly. Also, I do not think it is necessary to insist that every person becomes a witness.
I return to the example that I gave earlier about the man in Dundee. When we telephoned the police and they arrested the man, we did not have to become witnesses in the court. There are a great many people who would be—to use an unpopular phrase—police, informers if they could be sure that they would not have to become witnesses and that they would not find their photographs, names and addresses published the following morning. That change would be desirable if it could be brought about, and it would do as much as any single thing to help the police to detect crime.
Too many people today turn their backs on crime. There was a recent incident in my constituency in which an inoffensive young student was walking in the High Street at about 7 o'clock on a Saturday night. There were hundreds of people in that well-lit street. A gang walked past and knocked the student down. His glasses were knocked off and he could not see his attackers, who then proceeded to kick him. He ended up in the infirmary. Not one person intervened, informed the police or lifted a finger, yet there were hundreds of people milling around. It is scandalous that the public should not co-operate in that way. One of the reasons for it is the fear of publicity.
282 The quicker the police get that through their heads, the better.
I turn to the effect of television programmes. I see television only occasionally, but when I have seen it I have been amazed at the programmes which put into people's heads all kinds of sophisticated ideas which they would never otherwise have thought of. One recent programme gave a detailed explanation of how to make a home-made bomb. It was as simple as that. 1 was astounded that such a thing could happen. [An HON. MEMBER: "Did it work?"] Apparently it worked.
There is another body or group of people who are partly to blame for the present state of affairs. It is the Howard League for Penal Reform. When the Government are drawing up new legislation to reform the criminal law, they consult the Howard League and the police but virtually no one else. The Howard League's attitude is that corporal punishment is bad because it turns people into hardened criminals and that capital punishment is bad because it takes us back to the Middle Ages. The Howard League's latest idea is that long-term prison sentences are bad because they turn people into "cabbages". That is the latest theme. But what should we do about the man who goes around shooting people?
§ Mr. Doig
I read in a magazine about a proposal by the Howard League for Penal Reform to the effect that people should not be kept in prison beyond a certain number of years for fear that they might become "cabbages" and be of no use to anybody. What shall we finally end up with? Are we to give such people a gift of £2,000 to prevent them wanting to go off and steal a sum of that kind? Everybody knows how daft that would be, but that is what we are coming to.
§ Mr. Alan Clark
The hon. Gentleman does less than justice to the Howard League. Its latest scheme, subsequent to its recommendations concerning sentences, is that incest should no longer be illegal and that the age of sexual consent should be lowered.
§ Mr. Doig
I am not particularly interested in that form of crime. I am interested in the plight of constituents who go about in fear of their lives inside or outside their homes. They are liable to be beaten up in their homes and to have their valuables stolen. If they go outside their homes, they are also liable to be beaten up and robbed. That is what I am concerned about rather than the subject of incest. I am concerned about the serious crimes of the type I have outlined which affect my constituents—and, indeed, most people.
I should like to see capital punishment restored, for the simple reason that I believe there is a cast-iron case for its restoration. The figures show that before capital punishment was abolished in Scotland one convicted murderer lost his life every two years. During the time since capital punishment was abolished, the number of victims of murder has increased by 40. Are we more interested in the one life-long criminal or in the 40 innocent people who have lost their lives? Are we more concerned with the possibility that one person in a million might be hanged who should not have been hanged when he was invariably a criminal in any case?
§ Mr. Carmichael
My hon. Friend must be specific. It is all very well saying that one person in a million may be hanged by mistake, but in the case of Patrick Meehan, who was proved not to have committed murder, would my hon. Friend like to be in the situation of having to pull the lever or press the button?
§ Mr. Doig
I am astonished that my hon. Friend should take the example of a man who has been nothing but a criminal all his life. That is the man he is concerned about. It has never yet been proved that that man did not commit the murder. It has been proved to the satisfaction of an appeal court, but it has never been proved in any other court. The Secretary of State pardoned him, and that was fair enough because he is now free.
I am suggesting that capital punishment should not be compulsory in all cases of murder. Some murders merit capital punishment, but others do not. There are differences in murders, as in every other crime. It is strange that the most serious crime is the only crime for which there is no jurisdiction on the part 284 of the judge when sentencing. I think that he should have power to vary the sentence and to decide whether the circumstances of the crime are such as to merit capital punishment.
I do not think that those powers should necessarily be confined to murders involving police officers or prison officers. I can think of a hundred and one murders of which it could be said that capital punishment would be the remedy. For example, there is the person who plants a bomb in the middle of a store and who may kill hundreds of people. Perhaps it is thought that such a crime does not merit capital punishment. I think that it does. It is a question of one's point of view. The proper person to decide is the judge who tries the case, hears the evidence and knows all the details. I think that a judge should have this power. Equally, a judge should have power to impose corporal punishment if he thinks it justified.
§ Mr. Doig
It may be less than the death penalty, but if it provided an effective deterrent and the crime was serious enough there might be a case for taking somebody's arm instead of taking somebody's life. Again, this is for the judge to decide in the circumstances. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a Committee point."] Some hon. Members may think that it is a huge joke, but they are concerned about the man who has committed crime. I am in a different position. I am concerned about the victims of crime. That is the point I wish to stress. I am concerned about the 40 victims whom I mentioned earlier rather than the one criminal who commits murder and is convicted.
I admit that there are some people who will never be deterred, but the vast majority of criminals can be deterred.
285 Some may be deterred by capital punishment. Young thugs may well be deterred by the threat of such punishments. I want the courts to have the power to inflict such sentences if they are convinced that they will have a deterrent effect. I believe that it would he worthwhile restoring capital punishment, if only for a limited period. We have tried the other course for a limited period, and it has not worked. Let us try capital punishment for a limited period and see whether it will work.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)
The House can scarcely have heard a more resoundingly firm smack of strong Government than that to which we have just been treated by the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig). He requested a return to stiffer penalties for a whole variety of crimes. I shall not follow him into the avenues of his arguments except to say that I agree with some of his main points, although 1 would not seek to introduce koranic sentencing and punishments.
The main burden of any criticism of the hon. Gentleman's remarks relates to the fact that he dealt with the punishment of crime when the theme of this debate is its prevention. An ounce of prevention is worth several pounds of punishment. That is the theme to which I shall now turn.
I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) laid such emphasis on the role of the police. The police have a unique part to play in our society. Their duties range from being the only 24- hours-a-day social service to being the only line of defence against violence, which they usually face completely unarmed. It is relevant to ask ourselves what other police force in the world in the last few days could have coped with the vicious thugs outside the Grunwick factory without so much as the drawing of a truncheon. It is a remarkable compliment to the way in which they handled these very difficult duties. But the variety and complexity of the policeman's lot, which is for ever being added to by new legislation from this House, bring complexities and complications of their own.
Do we expect our police to be a police force or a police service? Are the police 286 to be the face of the community, which is what one so often romantically hopes them to be, as in the days when the village bobby was the central figure in the community, or are they to be the face of the State—the rather unacceptable role into which they are increasingly being forced, particularly when they come into conflict with immigrant groups and people with whom they have no community connection?
All these problems, which the police themselves do not have enough time to reflect upon philosophically, are increased in their burden by the pressures of overwork. It is still true today that many officers in the Metropolitan Police have to give up some five out of every six weekends of their leisure time to cope with policing demonstrations and dealing with all the other pressures of time and work which are laid upon them.
We have seen one of the most distressing pay disputes in recent memory during recent months, when the Government and the Police Federation were locked in dispute in a most unseemly and degrading way for months and months of unnecessary squabbling. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border on the constructive and far-sighted proposals that he put forward in his speech today. I think that the present regrettable and unfortunate atmosphere of tension between the police and the Government has been caused by the ham-handed negotiating tactics of Home Office Ministers and their advisers during the pay negotiations.
For the first time this afternoon—the suggestion admittedly coming from the Opposition—one has seen the way clear to a solution. I understood my right hon. Friend to say that from now on a Conservative Government at least will treat the police as a special case and will recognise that they have a special role in our society. The method that he was suggesting, of a Willink type of commission to look again at the whole structure of pay and conditions of the police service, seems admirable. But, whatever pay settlement is reached, the regular police will be for some foreseeable time to come overworked and undermanned, even if they are not still underpaid.
Here I turn to a subject to which I have referred in the House before, that 287 of the Special Constabulary. It should be universally acknowledged that Britain could benefit tremendously from having a large, well-trained and efficient police reserve. The foundations for such a reserve exist in the Special Constabulary. It is a reserve to which thousands of men and women have voluntarily given their time. In passing, I declare an interest as an ex-special.
The Special Constabulary today is to a certain extent at the crossroads because of the report of a Home Office working party on the Special Constabulary published at the end of last year. It is a thoughtful and constructive document but also, I believe, a sad one. The figures tell the story. In 1938 there were 118,000 special constables. In 1975—the last year for which full figures are available—the number had fallen to 23,000, and we believe the number still to be continuing to decline. It is little short of a national tragedy that this fine volunteer police reserve should be allowed to run down and wither on the vine.
A revitalisation process is needed. My main criticism of the report is that there are no serious proposals for a reconstruction, revitalisation or expansion of the Special Constabulary. A great deal of the report is given over to what can only be called nit-picking over arcane sartorial arguments on the merits of shoulder flashes, diced cap bands and miniature stars and stripes, and the merits of metal bars as opposed to chevrons on police uniforms. All this seems esoteric to outsiders. All that I think is necessary is that special constables should look as much like regular police officers as possible and not like some other branch of the administration, such as traffic wardens.
All these arguments about ranks, uniforms and other minor details are symptomatic of one fundamental ailment which affects the Special Constabulary—the less than generous attitude of the Police Federation towards its colleagues in the specials. I have covered this ground before, and I shall not weary the House with the somewhat regrettable history of the federation's attitude towards the specials. Suffice it to say that this attitude, springing as it does from a mistaken shop-steward-like belief that the 288 use of specials by chief constables could in theory prevent overtime payments and even jobs going to regulars, is the basic obstruction to the substantial expansion and revitalisation that the Special Constabulary now needs.
Every chief constable would like to strengthen and expand his force of special constables. When my right hon. Friend comes to do his deal with the police service on pay and conditions, I hope that he will make it one of the terms of the bargain that the Police Federation changes some of its attitudes and approaches to obstructing the expansion of the Special Constabulary. After all, in our party manifesto "The Right Approach" we pledged to expand and strengthen the Special Constabulary, and I sincerely hope that we shall.
There were references in my right hon. Friend's speech to some new thinking on the Conservative Benches on the subject of prison reform. I could not agree more that a short, sharp shock policy is urgently needed. I congratulate those of my hon. Friends who were engaged in the study groups which produced these ideas, which have received some publicity recently. I would commend to them only one additional idea, that of the weekend prison, which has been very successful particularly in New Zealand. That is a variation on the theme of the short, sharp shock. It would not cost the State the £75 a week or so that it now costs to keep a man in prison. It would be much more effective to put him in prison at weekends, probably for consecutive weekends, depriving him of his liberty and giving him a quick lesson without destroying family life and at less cost to the State.
Whatever we may say about prevention of crime, whether by reforms of the police or of the prison service, prevention goes far deeper than that. It goes back to school, home and family. Here we as parliamentarians must remember the words of Burke in a not dissimilar context when he reminded the House:We sit here on a conspicuous stage and the whole world marks our demeanour.In homes, families and schools a bad example is set when hon. Members indulge in violent demonstrations and other lawless activities. That creates a deep impression which is most regrettable in the battle for crime prevention.
§ Mr, Eldon Griffiths
Does my hon. Friend accept that an even worse impression is created when, having indulged in such activities, hon. Members then make unwarranted charges against the police service and fail to come to the House and repeat their allegations here, where they can be dealt with?
§ Mr. Aitken
I do not know exactly to which case my hon. Friend is referring, but I could not agree with him more on the general principle that he has just stated.
The prevention of crime is an unending battle that must be fought on many fronts, in many languages and in many circumstances. I hope that some of the ideas that I have put forward today, particularly for reforming the police, will be of interest and commend themselves to the House.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I suppose it is inevitable that in a debate on crime prevention one talks about the product of a crime and not about how it is committed or what makes people become criminals. That is also inevitable when one discusses deterrents, whether it is the ultimate deterrent of capital punishment or the rôle of prisons, detention centres, listed schools and other systems for taking out of society people who have committed an offence. There is a certain ambivalence when we discuss these issues.
I do not accept the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) that those of us who are concerned about the effects of capital punishment and the wrongs that might be done have no regard for the victims. It is not the case that we who argue that prison should be a reforming institution and not a penal institution have no regard for those who have suffered from crime. That argument takes the easy way out and does not answer the questions or face the difficulties.
A number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Kings-wood (Mr. Walker) and the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken), have said that we should have a prison system that could apply a short, sharp shock, presumably as a deterrent. They have said that the system should point out to people what will happen if they land up in 290 prison. However, I wonder how far back in time they want to go to apply that short, sharp shock. Should we go back to the days when there were no beds for criminals and no sanitary facilities? Many hon. Members know better than I that the sanitary conditions in many of our prisons are already pretty appalling. Should we go back to the days when there were sewers running through old Newgate? How far back should we go? Presumably, the short, sharp treatment is intended for the first offender. Should we cage these people like animals and feed them raw meat like animals so that they will come out like animals?
That is where the ambivalance lies. We say that we are too civilised to treat people as they were treated 100 years ago. Where do we draw the line with the conditions in our prisons? Where does the effect of being in prison lose its effectiveness and become totally worthless so that prisons become turned into what have been described as rest camps? The only thing missing there would be the police in red coats.
There lies the real argument between all of us who are interested in crime and crime prevention. However, we never seem to discuss how we can ensure that those who have been in prison come out with a better chance of being decent citizens. All the evidence shows that the chances are that, once a person has been in a custodial institution, he will repeat his offence or commit some other offence and be repeatedly sentenced to imprisonment. The evidence is that, instead of improving a man's chances of being a decent member of society, prison increases the chances of his becoming a hardened criminal. How can we resolve these serious questions?
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West asked how long we should keep people in prison. The case was brought to me the other day of a comparatively young man who had been sentenced for the crimes of murder, serious assault and attempted rape in 1953. I was going to say that he is still in prison, but that is not totally accurate. He is in prison at the moment, but he has been out of prison four times under licence and each time, because of the influence of alcohol, he has got into difficulty involving a minor form of violence and he has been taken back. The last time when 291 he was out under licence he was taken back because he seemed to be increasing his drinking and he was returned as a precaution. This man has been in the care of the prison system for almost a quarter of a century, and apparently it has been beyond the wit of society and the prison authorities to help him to live outside a prison and become, if not a useful member of society, at least not a dangerous one.
We never discuss these matters properly.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Lambeth, Central)
Is my hon. Friend going so far as to say that a case such as that of Guardsman Holdsworth—where the man was ordered to serve three years' imprisonment and then the sentence was reduced to six months' suspended imprisonment—is not drawing the line too far the other way?
§ Mr. Hughes
I entirely accept that there are people who must be taken out of society temporarily for society's good. I have never argued against that. However, I also believe that, having taken such people in custodial care, we should do all we can to make sure that they come out of an institution as, if not a useful member of society, at least no longer a danger—if one takes danger to mean serious assault, murder or robbery with or without violence. We have never tackled the problem.
Such problems begin when we deal with young offenders. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) would probably argue that the change in Scotland from a system of juvenile courts to that of children's panels was a retrograde step. He may be joined in that view by other hon. Members, not necessarily on his side of the House. The system of juvenile courts was proved not to work and was changed because we were not doing anything to help young people who came before them. We therefore started the system of children's panels. They tried to involve the family and the whole of society in dealing with these products of their environment.
Of course, people expect instant results. One of the curses of our modern age is that, whatever policy is adumbrated by Government or Opposition, instant results are expected and demanded. In dealing 292 with human nature one cannot obtain instant results. The system of children's panels in Scotland has yet to be tested. I do not claim that it has been a total success, but it certainly has not been a total failure.
Even within the system of treating people in their own environment, without taking them out of society, there is the problem that some youngsters end up in List D schools. If one takes the trouble to talk with the people who run these schools, one finds that they are always seeking ways in which the route back to normal society can be eased and in which offenders may become familiar with society outside. One List D school outside Glasgow has people coming in for almost day care only. It is trying to get them home at night and at weekends. We must try to do this more, and the same principle should apply to the prison system. We must find ways of returning people to society.
I return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West about capital punishment. The only virtue, if there is one, in capital punishment is that one can say with certainty that, innocent or guilty, that person will certainly not commit that crime again. That is the only argument in favour of capital punishment.
I want to end on this matter of capital punishment because my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West said that only two people in I do not know how many years had been hanged for murder in Scotland. If I recollect correctly, they were both in the city of Aberdeen. The last person hanged in Scotland was a young man who had been seen in a pub with a shotgun threatening to go home, find his wife's lover and shoot him. No one in the pub made any attempt to contact the police. I am not sure whether the woman was the man's wife or his ex-wife, but he went to her home and said what he was going to do. He then went away, and the police were still not informed until it was too late. This illustrates the rôle of society in preventing crime and in coming to terms with it.
With capital punishment, judges and the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Home Secretary are put in a dreadful position. Once sentence has been passed, the Secretary of State has to decide whether the man or woman should hang.
293 I do not believe that there is any deterrent in capital punishment, especially when we hanged only two people in so many years.
§ Mr. Hughes
I think my hon. Friend will find that the number of people who were hanged was very much fewer.
The vast majority of murders occur within the family. Crimes that are committed on the spur of the moment, in the heat of passion or through drunkenness or rage will not be deterred by the reintroduction of capital punishment.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor
I know that the hon. Gentleman has held these views sincerely for many years, but can he explain why there has been such a dramatic rise in the number of killings both north and south of the border since the abolition of capital punishment?
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not believe that the dramatic rise in the number of killings started with abolition. I think the figures show that there has been an increase in violent crimes over a long period. However, the charging of people who have killed has changed. When capital punishment was in force, the charge was often manslaughter because of the possible consequences of a murder charge. Since abolition, there has been an increase in the number of murder charges. However, I do not deny that there has been an increase in violence.
I do not believe that capital punishment would be a deterrent to the premeditated, carefully-planned murder. The trouble with most criminals is that they do not think that they will get caught. Almost every civilised society gets by without capital punishment, and there is no great variation in the number of killings.
I share the concern of many people about the rise of violence in our society. It is increasing at all levels and we must all be worried about it. I sometimes wish that those who spend so much time campaigning about sexual obscenity would do a bit more campaigning about the obscenity of violence and would try to prevent it being raised to the level of almost a virtue in much of our society.
294 We must also begin to tackle the problems of our environment. I hope that I am not putting too many words into the mouth of the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson) if I say that he seemed to be suggesting that human nature was such that the only way we could be prevented from becoming criminals was to have a policeman in almost every street. There has been a big increase in crime in our cities, and the deprivation and alienation in those areas is having a serious effect. Unfortunately, we do not discuss these problems often enough. We should be thinking of solutions and not of revenge or punishment. We should be thinking of how to integrate the abberations and perverts—in a criminal sense—into society and how to ensure that they do not continue to make a nuisance of themselves. Until then, we shall not get to grips with the problems that we have to solve.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Andrew MacKay (Birmingham, Stechford)
I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that the Government are worried about increased crime in urban areas. Too little has been said about this problem and in such an important debate we should dwell for a few moments on the innocent people in our cities who are afraid to walk the streets at night.
My constituency does not have a particularly high crime rate, but many of my constituents will not open their doors or walk the streets at night and they live in fear of having their properties vandalised. Their whole lives are deteriorating, to such an extent that their freedom has been completely eroded.
We have a city centre in Birmingham —and I suspect that this is true in other parts of the country—where innocent people dare not go. Pubs, theatres and cinemas are losing business because people are scared to use the subways, where muggings are much in evidence. Many football supporters in Birmingham no longer go to matches, because of the violence, hooliganism, bad language and abuse that they experience and because their cars are likely to be vandalised if they are left outside the ground.
In my constituency we have the misfortune to have many high-rise blocks of council flats. It has been agreed on all 295 sides that such flats were a mistake and that, environmentally, they are not suitable places for people to live. It has not been made clear, however, that in these flats, in my constituency and elsewhere, many people dare not go out at night. They are afraid to use the stairs because of muggers and they cannot use the lifts because of constant vandalism. They are virtually prisoners in their flats. I am particularly concerned because many of these people are the least able to cope with life anyway and they are suffering to such a degree that local GPs regularly ask me for assistance with transfers to other properties. Unfortunately, so many people want to leave the flats simply because they are unpleasant places to live that we cannot transfer them all.
It is the Government's duty to protect these innocent people. The pendulum has swung from the Victorian days, so eloquently referred to by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), right across to a permissive society in which there is no sufficient deterrent. There has to be a happy medium between the Draconian methods suggested by the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) and the liberal methods of punishment that have been prevalent in the past few years.
The first deterrent must be detection. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) that police pay is a major factor in the deteriorating rates of detection. Our police force is undermanned and its morale is very low. I call upon the Minister of State, who will be winding up the debate, to give an indication that the Government will increase police pay to a realistic level. If they do so soon, we shall get improved morale and the increased recruitment that we so much need.
I wish to take up one point that was raised by the hon. Member for Dundee, West, who scoffed at the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker) about the bobby on the beat. It is most important that when the police have an increase in pay and we have fresh recruitment to the force we should place more officers on the beat. When 296 they are on the beat they know the local environment and the local people and can often anticipate a crime before it is committed. This is an important aspect of detection. The Panda car plays a part, but so does the bobby on the beat, and with the excellent two-way radios that officers can use, both in the car and on the beat, there is no difficulty in communication.
The second form of deterrence is punishment. To this end I believe that in special circumstances we should consider corporal punishment. The punishment should be increased to fit the crime. I am not entirely convinced by the arguments of hon. Members on both sides who say that if there are longer prison sentences for serious crimes of violence our prisons will be fuller in the long run. On the contrary, I believe that if there are stiffer penalties and longer sentences for crimes of violence in the not-too-distant future we could see a reduction in the number of people in prison. The argument against longer prison sentences is entirely fallacious.
I hope that the Minister will give some light and hope to many of my constituents and to many people who live in urban areas throughout the country whose lives are hardly worth living, whose freedoms have been completely eroded and who have received very little encouragement so far from the Government, I am sorry to say. They have little hope of going back to normal living. I trust that the Minister will be able to give a lead, and I look forward to hearing his speech.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. John Ryman (Blyth)
I wish to intervene briefly to make three basic points for hon. Members to consider. I had not intended to speak in the debate. I came into the Chamber because it is the coolest place in the building and I had to be in the building in the early part of this evening.
While there is, of course, a case for being merciful in a genuine case where a defendant appearing before a court has perhaps drifted into crime through no fault of his own, the general tenor of the debate so far is that some hon. Members have been extremely naïve about the realities of crime while others have been extremely reactionary in suggesting how we should deal with it.
297 I believe that criminals are deterred by three things—detection, prosecution and conviction. The trouble is that Parliament has recently made it extremely difficult to detect criminals and prosecute them effectively to conviction, and to give judges sufficient discretion in appropriate cases to sentence the offenders with whom they are dealing.
Much has been said about the morale and the powers of the police. One of the troubles is that because of the cutbacks in public expenditure and the Government's clumsy handling of the police pay negotiations many police forces in the country are under-established. The men in the uniformed side and on the CID side are grossly overworked. In addition to the extra work load that they face and the lack of sleep that they suffer, they are now being strongly tempted to leave the force while they are still young enough to be able to make careers elsewhere.
On the question of the effectiveness of prosecution, the last Labour Government—by which I mean the Government that ceased to hold office in 1970—passed a number of statutes which were extremely helpful in enabling more effective prosecution to conviction of people who were guilty. Those statutes included the Criminal Law Act and the Criminal Justice Act, passed in the late 'sixties. They were very good statutes that helped the prosecution in a number of ways to adduce evidence that formerly they were not able to adduce and bring the guilty men to book. The trouble at the moment is that there are all sorts of procedural and technical loopholes which make it difficulty to prosecute effectively people who are guilty, by reason of evidential gaps. Tonight is a good opportunity for my hon. Friend the Minister to consider this point. A good deal of tightening up is required in criminal law and the criminal procedures to make prosecuions more effective.
Even if people are prosecuted successfully, what is the point of giving them absurdly lenient sentences? This is a matter for the judiciary. There are many examples of incredible and inexplicable leniency in case after case, particularly in the magistrates' courts. The Lord Chancellor and the Home Office can do no more than give advice to magistrates 298 at conferences—many such conferences are held on sentencing—and it is up to individual magistrates to pass appropriate sentences.
§ Mr. Clemitson
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the things that annoy people is not so much the fact that a number of sentences are held to be lenient as the inconsistency in sentencing? I recognise that circumstances and individuals differ, but there seem to be cases of outrageous inconsistency, which ordinary members of the public find hard to understand and accept.
§ Mr. Ryman
My hon. Friend is right. Sometimes there is an incredible disparity of sentence between almost identical cases. It is very difficult to understand these disparities. What should be done is not so much that there should be a substantive reform of the criminal law as that magistrates should be given strong advice to impose far tougher sentences. This problem is not confined to magistrates' courts. There are examples in the Crown courts of inexplicably lenient sentences being passed again and again.
I regret that the power of the Court of Criminal Appeal—as it was then called—to increase sentences on appeal against sentence was abolished as a result of the recommendations of the Donovan Commission many years ago. Hon. Members will recall that the purpose at that time was to discourage frivolous applications for appeal against sentence.
People who had been convicted appealed, knowing that the appeal would fail, because they knew that in the intermediate period they would receive more favourable treatment in prison, because they were treated as people who had appeals pending. After the abolition of the power to increase sentences on appeal, the number of frivolous appeals increased. I should like to go back to the situation that existed before the Donovan Commission. The Court of Appeal should have the right, on application for leave to appeal against sentence, not only to dismiss the application but to impose a longer sentence. If three experienced judges in the High Court thought it appropriate to increase the sentence passed by the judge in the lower court it might have a salutary effect in discouraging frivolous appeals against 299 sentence and correcting the balance when so many lenient sentences have been passed.
It is difficult to make successful criticism of sentencing policy, because one never knows all the facts of a case or the defendant's antecedants, all of which must affect the trial judges. Newspaper reports tend to be misleading on this aspect, but when I hear in the House and elsewhere pleas for leniency and for all sorts of sensible schemes to help prisoners, and so on, I lose sight of the fact that what most deters the criminal is not just the thought of getting caught and prosecuted but having an effective sentence passed on him.
I do not want vicious or inhumane sentencing, but sentences must be sensible. In the interests of the administration of justice they must strike the right balance between, on the one side, the role of society in protecting victims and future victims and, on the other, deterring future criminals and keeping criminals out of circulation for a reasonable time. I am sure that restoration of the power of the Court of Appeal to increase sentences might help.
Why do magistrates and judges impose absurdly lenient sentences on some occasions? It is invidious to discuss personalities among the judiciary, and I will not do that. Those experienced in the work of the courts know full well that if a case conies up before Mr. Justice X in court 1 the defendant will receive one sentence, while if the same sort of case comes up before Mr. Justice Y in court 2 the defendant, charged with an identical offence, with similar antecedants and on similar facts, will receive a different sentence. That is an inevitable and deplorable state of affairs.
It is another reason why the Lord Chancellor's sentencing policies and conferences are so important, and every encouragement should he given to them. The circumstances apply to recorders and Crown Court and High Court judges, but particularly to magistrates, some of whom have no idea of the realities of crime. One unfortunate fact is sometimes lost sight of by those sincere but wholly misguided do-gooding organisations that exist. It is that unfortunately there are, quite apart from the genuine 300 cases of people who drift into crime for social reasons and who should not be severely sentenced, professional criminals who calculate that prison is the debit side of their business. They believe that crime is a profitable business, and the only thing that will deter them is effective prosecution, conviction and sentencing. This approach may sound inhumane, but it is realistic. Nothing frustrates the police so much—and I have talked to many officers engaged in the most complicated inquiries—than to take months on a big inquiry involving huge sums of money and endless work and then at the end of a long, exhaustive and expensive trial, to see the defendants convicted but given absurdly lenient sentences. Nothing can so undermine the whole structure of the administration of justice as that.
On the question of money, the Government come out of the current situation badly, but it ill becomes the Conservatives to criticise the Government. I remember the days of the last Conservative Government—an all-too-recent event—when police officers were suffering the same lack of morale and were drifting off into other jobs because they could see no future in an overworked and underpaid profession. I do not make a party political point. To be fair to the Conservative Party, I must point out that the conduct of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in the negotiations with the police has been absolutely scandalous.
The Home Secretary has at once quarrelled with the police, the prison officers and the probation officers. That is a deplorable state of affairs. It should not be made a partisan point; it is a fact. The reception given to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary when he recently addressed the conference of police officers was a silent condemnation of his conduct in the course of these negotiations. I hope very much that my right hon. Friend will reconsider his attitude towards the talks with the police in order to get them moving on a more effective basis.
The feeling certainly exists among police officers in my constituency in Northumberland—I have taken great care to sound out officers at all levels—that had they been members of strong trade unions and had their negotiating power 301 been more effective, as was the case with the National Union of Seamen when they negotiated with the Government for a pay increase, the police would have secured a far better pay deal.
There is great bitterness among officers and all ranks in Northumberland about the treatment meted out to them. I know a number of young and promising officers in both the uniformed and CID services who wish to continue with a life of dedication and public service but who are wholly discouraged by the Home Secretary's present attitude. I hope that my right hon. Friend will reconsider the matter as quickly as possible and engage in more fruitful negotiations. I am sure that he is sincere in wishing to stick to the Government's avowed pay policy, but he underestimates the strength of feeling among officers in Northumberland, a county with a great tradition for public service as is evidenced by the fact that most of the well-known regiments do a lot of their recruiting there.
The other side of the coin, however, is concerned with the prevention of crime. Some of the absurd suggestions made in the debate for the return of capital punishment, an excess of the gross features of Victorian justice, are no doubt made frivolously and should not be taken too seriously.
§ Mr. Alan Clark
The hon. Gentleman says that the demand for the return of capital punishment is absurd. He knows, however, that public opinion polls show that more than 70 per cent. of the people are in favour of such a move. How high does that figure have to go before we accept that it is the House of Commons, not the people who answer the questions in the opinion polls, which is absurd.
§ Mr. Ryman
I have no confidence in public opinion polls. The result could well depend on how the question is phrased. People go around soliciting the opinion of the public, and the whole system is most unsatisfactory. I am sure the Government accept as I do that there is a substantial body of opinion crying out for the return of capital punishment, but people want it back net because they believe that it will deter crime, but because it is their way of showing dissatisfaction and frustration with the present prevalence of crimes of violence.
302 I can understand people being wholly dissatisfied with the present disregard for the law and the rise in the number of crimes of violence, but I do not think that anyone who has studied all the facts and figures and has experienced all the work involved thinks that a return to the pre-Homicide Act days of 1957 would solve the problem. There is a genuine feeling, sincerely and properly held by the public, that the Government must act more strongly in the restoration of law and order. It is a sincere view. It is the Home Secretary's duty to give the police more support in that task. I was appalled when my right hon. Friend said that the number of policemen injured while trying to establish order at the Grunwick dispute was unacceptable. I thought that that was an appallingly wet way in which to put it.
A lot has been said about Grunwick. It is a genuine dispute involving a point of principle. I am completely on the side of those who stand for union recognition and want it. But all the riff-raff from the Left and the Right have been joining it and exploiting the serious situation there in order to attract attention to themselves and get involved in the violence. We see the hooligans from the mad fringes of the extreme Left and the unedifying picture of undistinguished Tory Members of Parliament and people connected with rather absurd bodies going along to the dispute to get in on it as well.
It is a deplorable situation about which we should all be concerned. However, no one treated it seriously until it was sensationalised by the presence of violence. It is rather as if one is talking about the Irish situation. The tragedy of the Grunwick dispute is not only the deep division of logical argument and principle that is involved—I think that Mr. Ward is entirely wrong and that those who want union recognition are entirely right—but the disreputable people who have become involved so as to gain some sort of political recognition or advancement for themselves or their causes.
I deeply deplore the remarks that were made on this side of the Chamber about the miners. The miners engaged in peaceful picketing. Miners' leaders exhorted the pickets to behave properly and not to join in any of the violence. They took firm steps to ensure that they 303 engaged in a dignified and peaceful procession.
I believe that the House is being naive on the serious subject of the prevention of crime. It is being naive in all this fine talk about first offenders, suspended sentences and half-suspended sentences. It is missing the point, namely, that there are a great many men—and, unfortunately, women too—who engage in serious crime and who come before our courts almost daily. They come before the Crown courts throughout the country and the Central Criminal Court.
The plain fact is that, because judges and magistrates wish to be humane and merciful, the criminals to whom I have referred get away with it nine times out of 10. They get away with it by being sentenced too leniently or going to prison and being released prematurely. There is that absurd figure of the Irish peer who is bald and who is always appearing on television to argue for that murderess to be released—Lord Longford. What a disgraceful performance he gives. No doubt he holds his views sincerely. No doubt he is a distinguished former Minister. I think that he was technically Labour in a Labour Administration. This man goes on television—
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpem)
Order. I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows that personal criticism of a Member of another place is not in order.
§ Mr. Ryman
I apologise if I am not in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I make the point in another way. It is completely irresponsible for anyone in public life, in this place or in any other place, to get cheap publicity on television by making sensational declarations and fatuous comments on the conduct of convicted murderers, be they men or women, in making pleas for clemency to the Parole Board. Nothing so undermines the confidence of the public in the administration of justice than for public figures to make utterances of that sort.
I understand the sincerity of those who wish to see clemency for certain people, but the particular performance to which I have referred—I hasten to say that I did not hear it; I read and heard about it and I have since spoken to people who saw it—did nothing to help the 304 serious cause of considering whether the case is a proper one for clemency. There is obviously a serious point of view to put forward about whether a person should be released from prison, whether it be by the intervention of the Parole Board or of the Prison Commissioners, but that is not assisted by the sort of performance engaged in by Lord Longford.
It is quite wrong to suggest that murder is the only crime in which judges have no discretion. There is now a mandatory life sentence for murder, but a judge has discretion in the recommendation that he makes to the Home Secretary for a minimum period of release. There have been many recent murder cases in which judges have recommended that the person in question should not be released for 20 years or whatever the term might be. It is wrong for advocates of capital punishment to say that judges have no discretion. They have discretion because there is the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment coupled with the recommendation of a minimum period before a defendant can be released.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I have been listening with great interest to the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but is it not a fact that in the case to which he was referring, in which the fatuous Member of another place whom I am not allowed to criticise has intervened, there was a recommendation that the lady in question should serve a certain period of imprisonment? This Member of another place has ignored that, and it is to be hoped that his representations will get nowhere.
§ Mr. Ryman
I am most grateful for that intervention. I was not sufficiently familiar with the details of the sentence passed upon the lady, if that is the way to describe her, but if the trial judge made a recommendation for a minimum period the proper way of dealing with the case is for the Prison Commissioners to be guided by the recommendation of the trial judge and not by the gentleman in question.
§ Mr. Ryman
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The prospect of being visited by Lord Longford should 305 certainly have a considerable deterrent effect upon any defendant convicted of crime. There is an amusing cartoon today in the Daily Express in which that point is made. In fact, it is a serious matter. Very often a man is convicted of serious crimes and he takes the view that he has nothing to lose by making frivolous applications to the Parole Board for premature release.
There have been a number of substantial cases in the past few years in which we have been dealing with professional criminals—for example, the Krays, the Richardsons, bullion robbers and others—and one reads in the newspapers, if they are correct, and they may well not be, that serious consideration is being given to their premature release.
I am all in favour of leniency in genuine cases. There is the tragedy that some people drift into crime because of bad housing conditions, social needs or the break-up of the family environment. Such people resort to crime not because they are criminal but because they come from broken homes and there is genuine need. Such people should be treated sympathetically. On the whole, unless they are unfortunate enough to come before particular judges, they are treated sympathetically.
On the other side of the coin is the need for the courts to be realistic. Of course, the Secretary of State for the Home Department can exert a considerable amount of influence in the advice that he gives, but the courts must be realistic in dealing with the real professional criminals.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Ryman) greatly heartened me when he began his address—
§ Mr. Ryman rose—
Mr. Deputy Speaker
There is no need for the hon. Gentleman to rise. He greatly heartened me by saying that he wished to make three brief points. In fact, he has made the longest speech by any Back Bencher in this debate.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)
I think that one should applaud the vigorous and, in my view, quite justified remarks made by the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Ryman) about the Home Sec- 306 retary. I believe that the Home Secretary has completed a distinguished hat trick by creating such a lamentable all-time low in his relations with the police and prison and probation officers.
Those of us who are concerned with the prevention of crime are acutely worried by three factors: the state of our prisons, the state of our police forces and the growing menace of uncontrolled juvenile crime. On each of those subjects my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith arid The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) made a lucid and constructive speech. I am tempted—but I shall resist the temptation, however strong it may be—to follow my right hon. Friend in his remarks about prisons. He said, and I confirm, that the report of a committee which he set up to look at the state of our prisons is shortly to be published. Therefore, it would not be right for me in any way to anticipate what is in that report.
However, I should like to refer to the state of our police forces and, briefly, to juvenile crime. The causes for disquiet about the police lie in the deep discontent, as I see it, that is now felt about police pay, the cuts in overtime and the under-manning. The cuts in overtime and the undermanning were identified recently by Sir James Haughton, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, in a frank and, I thought, alarming report as the reasons why it is becoming impossible for proper attention—in some cases, for any attention at all—to be given to the detection of those responsible for petty crime. The result, not surprisingly, is that the detection rate for petty crime in 1976 was 1 per cent. down and for robberies it was 22 per cent. down on the detection rate in 1975.
I believe that there is no better way of discouraging crime than to make its detection certainand that there is no more effective way of encouraging crime than to show that people can get away with it. At the moment there are far too few police trying to deal with far too many crimes. Thousands of policemen are needed to bring the establishment up to its authorised level where almost everybody recognises that it ought to be if it is to be at a safe level. Those policemen do not exist.
The continuing discontent with pay and the kind of demented abuse that has been heaped on the heads of the police, 307 together with the recent violence at Grunwick, combine to repel any real hope that we shall ever have the necessary number of police for public safety. Indeed, one cannot help but suspect that the agitators who have been working at Grunwick have had as one of their aims of discouragement of anyone from thinking of joining the police and the discouragement of the police from doing their duty.
To move thousands of policemen from the streets of London and from their stations where they are desperately needed is an invitation to criminals in our city on a future occasion to synchronise their criminal activities with events of the kind that happened at Grunwick yesterday.
A civil society such as ours cannot continue without order and justice. The agitators who have been operating at Grunwick are no friends either of order or of justice. If they do not know, someone ought to tell them—it is the Government's duty to tell them with the greatest clarity they can achieve—that what they have been doing has had nothing to do with peaceful picketing. What they have done has degenerated into a serious, sinister and criminal activity that the country cannot and must not tolerate.
Finally, and briefly, I turn to the question of juvenile crime. What my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border said about this problem accurately reflects its seriousness The Opposition hope—I do not know that our hopes are running particularly high—that tomorrow night they might have the chance of persuading the Government to act by giving to the courts the powers they desperately need and without which there will never be a solution to the problem of juvenile crime. Not only does the hard core of juvenile offenders—they are the ones we are aiming at—need the benefit of the orders that we are seekin to get the Government to adopt and to introduce into the Criminal Law Bill, but the public deserve the protection that they are not getting now.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Carmichael (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I shall try to be brief and not incur your displeasure, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
308 I want to make two points. First, I want to refer to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) about private security companies. We are talking about the prevention of crime. I understand that more than 140,000 people are employed by private security organisations. Therefore, I think that some kind of registration is required.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South gave a long catalogue of the kind of people who are accepted by private security organisations without any real vetting. Many of those people have criminal records. The police in my area have given me that information. Therefore, I feel that there is a need for registration—the Home Department will have to bring forward a Bill—and for the establishment of rigid standards for employees of private security organisations. The standards required should be just short of those demanded by the police. If the standards were as high 1 hope such people would join the police.
I have experienced situations in which people are obviously untrained. I am not concerned with how much training someone has to look after valuables. However, I know of a firm that was authorised by the Home Office to look after aliens moving between airports. Those involved had no training. There must be training for the handling of people.
I want confirmation from the Minister of State that there is not, and has never been, any suggestion that these organisations should be involved in national security. I have a letter from a rather pompous lawyer who represents one of these firms. The letter is addressed to another person. The lawyer says that he can give only limited information because otherwise he would be divulging matters of national security. I took the matter up with the Under-Secretary of State, and she confirmed that it was untrue. She said that the firm was never given jobs involving national security. I should like that said clearly on the Floor of the House so that people will know that work given to that firm by the Home Office is strictly controlled.
I was interested in the speech by the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson). I do not blame him for not 309 being in the Chamber now. He has been here for most of the discussion. He spoke about crime in rural areas. We should draw a clear distinction between the professional, hardened criminal and the juvenile criminal. If we can stop juvenile crime we can reduce the trickle of those who move on to more serious crime.
The hon. Member for Galloway seemed to think that there is less crime in the rural areas than in the cities. He mentioned football hooliganism. I regularly go to my local football club in the north of Glasgow—Partick Thistle. I can assure the hon. Member that the club and the police would rather deal with a city crowd, even with Celtic or Rangers, than with some rural football supporters. Perhaps such supporters, when they are in their own areas where they are known and more easily identified, keep their violence bottled up. But when they come to the big city—perhaps because of the euphoria brought on by the train journey —they are not the best behaved supporters in the eyes of either the police or my football club.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) referred to the Howard League for penal Reform. There is in the House an all-party Scottish group involved in penal reform. I assure my hon. Friend that, like the Howard League, we are not starry-eyed idealists. We feel that the old systems do not work and that something has to be done to find a solution to the problem.
I have attended a number of meetings of the Howard League. Most of those involved know the present system. They include prison officers, civil police officers, lawyers, psychiatrists and others who cannot be regarded as being unrealistic in their attitude. They see that over the years crimes are committed by the same people, who come back time after time. The hon. Member spoke about the importance of the home and education. He should read some of the remarks on education made by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain). She is always talking about the cycle of deprivation. Any hon. Members who have visited prisons, detention centres or any other penal establishments will see that there is a cycle. About 90 per cent. of those in institutions are victims of the cycle of deprivation. Not many with a 310 higher education are to be found in such institutions, nor are many boys who are successful in their school careers. The majority are there because for some reason they do not fit into society.
I know that what I am saying is not specific, but it is as specific as some of the statements about "reasonable" sentences and "reasonable" punishments. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) tried to elicit from hon. Members how far they wished to go. They wished to go back to the old Victorian ways. The best answer that he received was that some hon. Members want a "reasonable" standard of punishment.
This is a worthwhile debate. The more people who visit prisons and detention centres and see the conditions, the more they will realise that there is no holiday camp environment. Most people to whom I have spoken, in or out of prison, would be only too pleased never to go back. People in prisons and detention centres are there because of something in society —perhaps because of the total failure of their personalities or because they were not brought up correctly. I do not know what is the answer. It is not a simple one. It does not involve the question whether one brings back the birch, and hanging, or introduces other severe penalties.
The Howard League exists because some of us have experience in this sphere. We realise that the old system has not worked. The problem lies deep in society. We must work hard to seek out the causes of crime and to discover why people go off the rails. Most important of all, when people are sent to prison we must be willing to spend the money and use available resources to ensure that they do not go back.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
Two years ago plus two days my hon. Friend the' Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said, during a debate on the police:The police are the front-line defence of the values of our community. We depend on their competence and their courage, and on the extent to which they are able to embody the very values they are defending …It is an exacting task and one for which they need a fair return and our determined support".—[Official Report, 10th July 1975; Vol. 895, c. 864–5]311 Unlike the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Ryman), who happened to be passing and dropped into the Chamber, I listened carefully to the opening speeches. I support the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw). He pleaded for greater consideration to be given to the case of the police in their pay claim. He mentioned something that I did not hear mentioned by anyone else in the debate, and that is the great need that members of the active police force have to be released from the vast amounts of desk work they currently do. It is really time that the Government realised that this would be a self-financing step, and that if more police could be released to active duty, not only would the unemployment figures get better but more crimes would be detected and more money saved.
The argument for paying the police more has got to be an overwhelming one. One has only to watch television news and see what the police have to put up with to realise that if ever there was a special case, it is here; I suggest a very much more special case than was found to have been put forward by the National Union of seamen.
We have heard from all over the House suggestions about stiff sentences for crimes of violence. I am absolutely in favour of that, as are, I suppose, hon. Members in all parts of the House, and I am certainly in favour of short, sharp sentences for first offenders. What I think is wrong at present is that judges who sentence offenders to prison seem to have forgotten what exactly it is that they are sentencing them to. The hon. and very learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) made the point that prison corrects or punishes or keeps people away from the public so that they are out of mischief. It seems pretty important for judges to bear in mind when they sentence offenders to which of these headings they refer.
The other day a constituent of mine was gaoled for the third time, with a sentence of six months, for arrears of maintenance. It seems absolutely ludicrous that in this day and age a man who is unable to pay maintenance to his wife should be sent to prison, where he 312 costs the country another £70, £80 or £90 a week while social services look after his family. In this case, both the man's wife and his common law wife went to social services and got free railway tickets to visit him.
I think that the community service order is an excellent innovation. However, I ask the Minister to reflect whether he might not go more carefully into how its works in the rural areas. The community service order in a large town is an excellent thing. Someone is sentenced to do so many days' work in a youth club or a community centre, and no one knows he is there by order of the court. In a village or a small town, when such an order is implemented everyone knows that the man serving tea is the one who kicked the policeman or broke the window. It is for this reason that in rural areas such orders do not work as well. It need hardly be said that the whole community service business needs more money and greater back-up. But that, I suppose, is a well known complaint not confined to this service.
There has been much talk about football hooliganism, and this is something that has not been thought out carefully enough. It is not football that begets hooliganism. There is in this country a vast amount of hooliganism; at present it so happens that when someone wants to be a hooligan he joins Manchester United Supporters' Club, in the same way as Americans at one time joined the Ku-Klux Klan. I am convinced that if there were no football in this country the hooligans would hive in on darts, bowls, table tennis or whatever.
§ Mr. Freud
Or any political party for that matter—I agree.
I have in my constituency an amazingly unsatisfactory situation. The Prison Officers' Association at Bedford Prison, which tends to be where offenders in my constituency are sent, is currently on a work-to-rule. As a result, the average prisoner in Bedford spends over 23 hours a day in his cell. I urge the Home Secretary to look into this matter with care and to come to some sort of agreement, because: he people who really suffer are the prisoners. I wonder whether he would 313 consider that when a person is sent to serve a sentence, the judge never intends him to spend over 23 hours a day alone in his cell. If this happens through no fault of his but simply because there is an industrial dispute among prison officers, might that not be taken into account by a parole board, or, as the sentence is very much more severe than that which was intended, might the offender be considered for earlier release by virtue of what is being done?
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. MacKay) once again talked about the death penalty. He really ought to look at figures a lime more carefully. When the death penalty was abolished in 1965, statistically it made no difference to the number of crimes. All that we know is that if the death penalty were brought in again there would be more riots than we have ever had before, there would be kidnappings, and it would be a totally regressive step.
The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson) talked about the connection between drunkenness and crime. He wished television advertising of all drinks to be banned, because of the effect that they have on crime. I put it to him—I think that he is having his dinner now, so he will have to read it in Hansard—
§ Mr. Freud
I accept that; I put it to him that basically there is no connection between drunkenness and crime. My chief constable would certainly welcome, in a sense, crimes by drunks, because they are so very much easier to detect than crimes committed by sober people.
I now come to my final and most important point. I know that when I was an educational spokesman and mentioned the fact that there were incompetent school teachers, there were always shouts of anger and fury, from the left wing of the Labour Party, predominantly. I want to state that there are, without much doubt, policemen who are slightly less perfect than other policemen. The recent prosecutions of members of the Porn Squad will bear me out on that matter.
I believe that a successful police force is one that has the respect and, thereby, the support of the community. I believe 314 that the reason why we are very much more law-abiding in this country than are people in Northern Ireland at present is that in the rest of Britain people are not frightened or inhibited from going to the police and saying That was the man who did it. "This is something which is almost unthinkable—fortunately, it is becoming more thinkable—in Northern Ireland.
I wonder whether those few policemen who feel that it is easier to manufacture evidence in order to get a quick prosecution realise what harm they are doing in the community as a whole. I know very well that when it is the word of a policeman against the word of a citizen, the judge has to take the word of the policeman. There is a great temptation to magnify a crime in order to effect a quick conviction.
This happened to me about 15 years ago. When I was sitting in my office watching my parked car, a policeman came along. As I saw him approach I went down to the car and said "Would you like me to move it?" He said "No, I will get you for this." I pleaded not guilty. In his evidence he said that he stood by my car for 40 minutes directing traffic around it, and I was fined.
When this sort of thing happens to people who are perhaps less knowledgeable about the temptations of the police, not only the alleged offender but his family and all his friends feel that the police are crooked. As a result, they opt out of any co-operation with the law.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), who represents the Police Federation, is not in the House at the moment. It is very important for the police generally to realise that they have the good will of most people in this country and that it is the most minor incidents, which the police perpetrate for their own facility, which tend to put people off to the extent that they opt out of co-operation.
The hon. and learned Member for South Fylde mentioned the disparity of sentences. A man who has committed a crime and been fined a particular amount of money, or sentenced, for a period of imprisonment, will look at the newspaper very carefully in order to see what other judges have done in similar cases. Here again, the police and the authorities 315 on the whole lose a vast amount of support as a result of the tremendous disparity between the sentences of different judges for the same crime.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Clemitson (Luton, East)
I think that in this kind of debate we have to be rather careful about not looking at the past through rose-coloured glasses. For example, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. MacKay) spoke about people being afraid to go out on the streets at night. I well remember a conversation that I had with an old lady in Sheffield when I worked there at the end of the 1950s. She told me exactly the same thing: "You daren't go out in the streets at night." But in her young days, in the 1920s, the place was terrorised by street gangs. The cry then was "Be careful with your cellar grate." That was because the cellar grate was the favourite instrument in acts of violence.
Legislation can go only so far. We must always put flesh upon the bare bones which legislation provides. We cannot legislate for people's attitudes. All we can do in terms of crime and the prevention of crime is to legislate punishments, and punishments have an arguably very limited deterrent effect.
There has been a fair amount of discussion in the debate about the deterrent effect of various forms of punishment, but at least it can be said that the effect of deterrents is very arguable. It is perfectly arguable that they have a very limited effect indeed.
We have also heard a good deal about changing attitudes, and perhaps a little too much, unfortunately, about falling standards. The changing of attitudes is always put in terms of falling standards. For example, we hear about family life. From my observation, in many ways family life is stronger now than it has ever been. Certainly it is healthier in many respects. I observe many parents who have a great love and affection for their children—perhaps a greater love and affection than was demonstrated in many families in the past.
There is a great deal of talk about declining religious observance and so on. We are told that in Victorian times—although historically it is questionable 316 —there was a great deal more religious observance than there is today. But it was very dangerous then to go out on many streets a night, and violence was endemic in many parts, particularly in the great cities.
What we can say is that in many ways society has become more humane. I think that standards in social terms have improved. The National Health Service, for example, is quite obviously an expression of this. It is surely an improvement—a raising of our communal and social standards.
Perhaps we have not paid enough attention to the other side of the equation. If we are to raise our social standards, our communal standards, then standards of individual conduct, of individual responsibility, also need to be raised. There are very serious question marks about whether we have paid enough attention to that side of the equation.
We have also heard, quite rightly, a good deal about the relationships between the public and the police. The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) commented on this. We have heard it suggested, for example, that the replacement of the bobby on the beat by the bobby in the Panda car has led to a weakening of the relationship between the ordinary member of the public and the policeman. Clearly, the police need the support and the backing of the public if they are to do their job effectively.
There is, however, one area of the relationship between police and public which no one has touched on today, except by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely in passing. I refer to motoring and motoring offences. I think that this is one of the major areas in which relationships between public and police have deteriorated. We have a very strange attitude towards motoring offences. It is not considered to be particularly reprehensible to drive a motor car in a fashion which endangers human life. People drive motor cars on motorways at 100 mph, and even at 110 mph and 120 mph. If they are caught, other say "Too bad that you were caught".
I suggest that the breaking of motoring law in terms of breaking speed limits, driving cars dangerously and so on is a very serious matter indeed, because 317 human life and limb are potentially at risk. We know, for example, that if one of us drives a car, even under the influence of alcohol, and is caught, he is not finished as a Member of Parliament. It is just one of those things. Yet if one of us went into a shop and stole a packet of cigarettes, that would be regarded as a much more serious matter. Which really is the more serious, the stealing of the packet of cigarettes or the driving of the vehicle in such a manner as potentially to endanger human life? I know which one I regard as the more serious. It seems to me that we need to be much more consistent in cur attitude towards the seriousness of the law.
On the other hand, the police should not act in such ways as to deter the public from co-operating, with them. Their actions should be open to legitimate criticism and legitimate complaint. It is just not good enough for the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), who is not in his place at the moment, to say that to introduce an independent police complaints procedure is merely to introduce some kind of old lags' charter.
We have all had cases brought to our attention of people's complaints about the actions of the police. Usually they have a prima facie case which should be examined, and examined independently. Surely it is for the health of relationships between the police and the public, and for the good of those relationships, that there should be an independent procedure for dealing with police complaints. If the police resist that, in the end it will serve only to assist in the deterioration of the relationships between police and public.
Inevitably, the Grunwick dispute has formed a large part of the background agains which the debate has taken place. I wish to speak about two particular aspects of the matter. The first is with regard to picketing. I find it a little opportunistic to say the least that the Conservative Opposition should come up with all kinds of ideas and suggestions at this point for the reform of the law of picketing. I remind the House that on 30th July 1975, during the Report stage of the Employment Protection Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) put down a new clause which attempted in a reasonable 318 way to deal both with the stopping of vehicles and with reasonable numbers.
I quote from that new clause. It stated:In this section the term peaceful picketing shall mean the attendance of such numbers of pickets as may be reasonable having regard to the number of persons normally employed in the premises being picketed, the number of persons or vehicles normally seeking access to or egress from such premises and the number of possible entries thereto and exists there from.That new clause went on to set out actual numbers and distances between pickets and so on. Labour Members attempted to grapple with this problem well before the Grunwick dispute was ever heard of.
The final point that I wish to make concerns respect for the law. It seems to me that more and more of our law is not backed by penal sanctions. It relies on consent and co-operation. This is particularly true with regard to industrial relations law. If we are developing in this kind of way, and if we are having more and more law which is not backed by penal sanctions, surely that is a sign of society maturing. It places upon all of us more, and not less, responsibility.
Those who, for example, wilfully refuse to co-operate with bodies established under the law going about their business are, in fact, trying to push us backwards into a situation where behaviour is governed by compulsion and not cooperation. In my book, that is showing a contempt for the law which is at least as serious as, arguably even more serious than, if the law were backed by penal sanctions.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)
I could not agree more with the hon. Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson) with regard to his last point, because I believe that, the more we try to legislate on what is, strictly speaking, human behaviour, the more we try to dot the last "i" and cross the last "t" and the more complications we tend to create for ourselves.
I share the hon. Gentleman's hope that in a rather more mature and developed society we should dwell more and more on responsibility and mutual respect for other people whether or not we agree with their views. In that way details of law are less necessary and I believe that at the end of the day we should be a 319 much more stable society than we perhaps were.
In the short time that I intend to speak, I should like to dwell mainly on the matter as it relates to Scotland. I should like to pick up two points—one with which I agree, and one with which I disagree—from the Secretary of State's speech. The point with which I agree, and on which I support the right hon. Gentleman most strongly, is that I feel he was absolutely right when he said that we must not use figures for murder in any emotional or exaggerated sense.
From my experience at the Scottish Office, when I was responsible for home affairs, and from my experience of those who work in the police and the prison service, I certainly learnt that what was really important was the numbers of crimes of violence. That is what matters. I learnt that the difference between a crime of violence and murder was very narrow. It could turn simply on the thickness of someone's head or on the weapon that happened to come to hand at the particular moment of emotional stress. Goodness knows, crimes of violence are the most serious thing at present in the whole area of crime. We must look at the totality of crimes of violence and not necessarily simply pick out certain areas which might be a misrepresentation of the true situation.
The second point that I pick out from the Secretary of State's speech concerns his claim that we have a good police establishment and that police forces can be improved by coming up to establishment. That is a very easy argument to use in the present situation, bearing in mind that police morale is low and that recruitment is difficult. I therefore feel that talking about police establishment figures at present is less important than talking about the figures of recruitment and net gains which one would hope to see in the police force.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I should not like the Minister to think that I am quibbling about this. I believe, however, that we should look more closely at the actual 320 recruitment figures. The net gains and net losses are the statistics to which we should direct our attention.
The point that I should like to make is that, if we are to maintain law and order in this country, it is the police themselves who are in the front line. The fundamental thing that we as politicians have to realise is that in the interests of detection we must be prepared to spend money on the man on the beat. In that regard I strongly support what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw). We must realise that law and order is something that is absolutely fundamental. But law and order is not something that we can have on the cheap. If we value it, we have got to be prepared to devote resources to it.
I do not want to enter into the argument of pay policy, but if such a policy is to be fair and respected I believe that we must look at special areas. I believe that the police are a special area. We must make sure that we deal with them properly. That must be recognised.
I support the police in their difficult task and believe that they should have better treatment. But we should not forget their families. As a Member of Parliament, especially when I had responsibilities in this area, I have found that the wives and families are often more frustrated than the men themselves. The men are in the service because they like it and believe that it is a worthwhile job, but things are different for their wives and families who see people in other walks of life with the muscle to improve their conditions.
I am disappointed that the Scottish Office is still considering the introduction of a police complaints Bill next Session for Scotland. That is a pity when police morale is lower than we would like. I do not say that we do not need some kind of complaints service—we do—but in Scotland we already have the procurator fiscal system, which is truly independent of the police. If the existing system were made better known, legislation would not be so necessary. I am disappointed that the Government should be pressing on with legislation.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)
The police complaints Bill that we intended but have not been able to introduce this Session 321 takes account of the procurator fiscal system as an independent element. The Bill provides that any complaint sent to the procurator fiscal will not be subject to the proposed new machinery.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I recognise that, but I still think that the proposal for an addition to the adequate existing system is window-dressing.
On juvenile crime, it is desperately urgent to have a final decision on List D schools in Scotland and who should be responsible for them. The regional authorities which run the schools are concerned, and we need a decision quickly.
We in Scotland are worried about the size of our prison population, which makes us question the effectiveness of prison. We must aim to reduce the prison population. I am saying nothing new but am merely adding my voice to the pressure in this direction when I say that far to many people in prison are defaulters on fines and that there are better ways of dealing with alcoholics than locking them in prison. If we could deal with those two categories, our hard-pressed prison staff would have much more opportunity to deal properly with those for whom prison is the proper treatment.
I hope that we can hear a word of encouragement about possible legislation next Session in relation to the disposal of young people aged 16 to 21 who might go to borstals or detention centres. If we treated this problem on the lines recommended by the departmental report of 1969, we should make better use of our resources.
Tribute is not paid often enough to those in the "silent service" in the maintenance of law and order, because they are not in the front line and, therefore, are not in the public eye. I refer to those who serve in our prisons who, unsung, do a difficult job. The public often do not want to talk or to know about them, but they are an important arm in the prevention of crime. I pay my tribute to them.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
I agree very much with my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) that we cannot have law and order on the cheap. I shall develop that point later, I hope. 322 I am both sorry and glad that the Home Secretary is not present to hear my speech—sorry because I shall not be able to persuade him with my arguments and glad because, if he heard some of my criticisms, he might be less inclined than he normally is to vote for me at the next election, which I hope will come shortly.
The speech by the Secretary of State for Scotland was extraordinarily complacent. It was almost, but not quite, as complacent as the Home Secretary's statement on Grunwick yesterday. When he was in Northern Ireland the Home Secretary was resolutely moderate; now he is only moderately resolute. He gives the impression of being above it all when he should be in it all.
Various hon. Members have put forward suggestions for preventing crime. Obviously the four-star solution is to have better detection, but that is over-simple. I would add as one of my methods of preventing crime, that the owner has a duty to protect his own property. I have a long-term sense of grievance against supermarket owners who present an almost intolerable temptation to some customers in terms of the ease with which goods can be taken. They provide an aspect of contributory negligence when goods are taken.
Secondly, there is the detection of criminals, which means more police on the beat and more CID men. A third method is punishment of those who are caught by proper sentencing, thus deterring potential wrong-doers. Here I have in mind the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) who bears such an honourable name.
One must accept that the handling of police affairs by the Home Secretary has been absolutely abysmal. It has been one of the worst examples of the ineffectiveness of the present Government. The right hon. Gentleman showed disdain for the policeman's case over pay, and now he is attacking their pay by accepting a deduction in the overtime hours worked in the Metropolitan Police.
§ Mr. John
The hon. Member must be careful when he is attacking the Home Secretary in his absence—although it is safer than doing so in his presence. My right hon. Friend has nothing to do with 323 the operation and control of the Metropolitan Police and therefore nothing to do with the proposals on their overtime.
§ Mr. Page
The Minister of State surprises me by saying that. The Home Secretary is in fact the person to whom the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police goes to receive his instructions. In saying what I said I was referring to a Written Answer a few days ago from the Home Secretary on the subject of Metropolitan Police overtime. He said:The Commissioner has recently decided to introduce a new system for the control of overtime worked in the Metropolitan Police."—[Official Report, 7th July, 1977; Vol. 934, c. 628.]If the Minister of State wants to interrupt later, when he has heard what I have to say, I shall be grateful.
What the Home Secretary has edicted —if there is such a word—is that no more should be spent on police pay and overtime than was spent in the previous year. If that is the case, I feel that there is an ineluctable argument for saying that the police overtime will have to be reduced. I shall be happy to be told that I am wrong, but I do not believe that I am.
We all know that in the first three months of this year a number of special events have required a great deal of police time, and, indeed, overtime. We have had visits by the Heads of State of the richer nations, namely the Commonwealth and European leaders. We have also had the Jubilee and the Grunwick affair, in which over 3,700 police were on duty yesterday.
From information that I have gleaned, I understand that in the first three months of this year about half the amount of the overtime that was worked last year has already been used, leaving the other half of the overtime to be spread over the remaining nine months. If that is the case, it must mean a reduction in the amount of overtime worked. The Minister is obviously aware that a large number of Metropolitan Police officers, both uniformed and CID, are concerned about the reduction in their earnings. It has been estimated at between £60 and £70 a month. Some of my constituents who are police officers are experiencing difficulties because of the Home Secretary's refusal to accept the policemen's case. One police officer has had to sell his motor car and is considering selling his 324 house because he believes that he will be unable to continue to pay his mortgage.
I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that the new cash limits will not affect the operational efficiency of the Metropolitan Police. I find it difficult to accept that there will be no reduction in police coverage if less overtime is worked, unless it is accepted that the previous overtime was wasted—and I doubt whether the Minister will take that view. I hope that he will be able to assure London Members, and, indeed, London as a whole, that the "thin blue line" will not in the next nine months become the "thin dotted line" and that the protection of the public will not be reduced. It would be ridiculous if at a time of increasing crime the kind of cover given to the public by the police were to be reduced.
I wish to refer to the Grunwick affair and the great admiration felt by the public as a whole for the conduct of the police. I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Employment is not present, because I should like to emphasise in his presence that what happened yesterday could not be called peaceful picketing. It was intimidation and a move towards mob rule. I believe that the Home Secretary was overdisingenuous in saying that the march was all right and that it was the picketing that was the cause of the trouble. If the march had taken place in Hyde Park that point might have been relevant, but since it was held in close proximity to the Grunwick works, in which some of my constituents work, I do not believe it can be claimed that that picket was peaceful.
I wish finally to comment on the startling and unacceptable figures showing that nearly 50 per cent. of burglaries and nearly 50 per cent. of violent crimes are carried out by boys and girls in the 11 to 16 age range. We must admit that something in our system has broken down. I believe that it is a breakdown in discipline at home, in the family, in the school and at the workplace, and that it is generally the fault of the do-gooders more than of the do-harmers.
§ Mr. Page
I shall suggest that something should be brought back, beginning with a bit more of the majesty of the law 325 in the juvenile courts. It has been shown that the informality of the juvenile courts no longer works.
Secondly, I believe that in the juvenile courts the police are considered almost as interlopers, and the juvenile magistrates often seize or any straw in order to be lenient. I do not believe that fining is any good. I used to believe in detention centres, but now I do not believe that they work.
Therefore, the House should once again seriously consider the outline Bill that my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby tried to introduce earlier this year. The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) and others have said that what is needed is a short sharp sentence. I believe that corporal punishment, with the birch as an alternative to a custodial sentence, would be the most beneficial to the child criminal and to the public.
Two boys of 10 and 11 years of age came into a local post office near Westminster three days running and paid in between £10- and £15-worth of 5p pieces. On the third occasion the clerk recognised them, and it was found that they had been robbing meters. A sentence of the birch for those boys would be much more likely to do them good and not turn them into hardened criminals than would a sentence that involved the danger of contagion from other young criminals.
My last suggestion is that magistrates —and I would not mind solicitors and banisters, especially those who occasionally appear in court being included in this—should spend one Friday or Saturday night at a busy police station to experience first-hand the hooliganism and other forms of crime that the police have to deal with. Such a regular experience, say, once or twice a year, would give them a better idea of the job of the police in trying to deal with the young hooligan and the young criminal whom magistrates have the responsibility for sentencing.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)
I shall not follow the path taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page). I remember too vividly public school discipline and the other procedures there. Should my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Hodgson) catch your eye, Mr. 326 Deputy Speaker, I have no doubt that he will be able to tell us of similar memories, because we had the misfortune of going to the same school.
The main problems that surround crime have been well reviewed, so I shall not seek to duplicate them in any detail. I am glad that so many constructive suggestions were set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), and I hope that the great bulk of them will figure in Conservative policy at the next General Election.
It is clearly a matter of great concern that crimes of violence, vandalism and serious crimes should have increased so rapidly and consistently in recent years. I am also concerned about the serious problems of hooliganism, whether at football matches or in schools, and truancy. Hon. Members who represent London constituencies are particularly alarmed by the high figures for theft and burglary in London. In many cases those thefts are connected with motor cars. Of course, we are well aware that there are special problems in London. Police must cope with demonstrations, looking after embassies, visiting delegations, and so on.
However, it is more than just ironic that yesterday more than 4,000 Metropolitan policemen were drafted in to deal with the situation at Grunwick's. The irony is that that is almost the same number as that by which the Metropolitan Police now falls short of its full establishment. Clearly, the first priority of the next. Tory Government must be to get the police up to their full establishment quota, particularly in the capital city, for which the growth in crime causes the greatest difficulties. Obviously the police have their greatest difficulties in the metropolitan area, where they are under-strength and over-worked.
Difficulties are also faced by teachers, social workers and all the other professionals that are involved, particularly those who must deal with young offenders. The courts and the legal profession face difficulties because of the growing disillusion and frustration in the administration of justice. Prison officers and all others who work in the prisons do an extremely difficult job at a time when the prison population has reached a level that the previous Home Secretary said 327 would be unacceptable if it were ever reached.
Parents also face difficulties, particularly in the urban stress areas to which this debate should be especially directed. There are difficulties for the general law-abiding public, for your constituents and mine, Mr. Deputy Speaker, who are fearful of violent crime and who are increasingly resentful of the soft approach that they believe Parliament has taken over the years to deal with it.
It is impossible for a layman to set out briefly the main causes of crime growth, but one must pay attention to the breakdown of traditional standards of discipline and behaviour in our society, and take note of the failure of parents, teachers and community leaders to tackle the problems of young people.
We must pay attention to the pernicious influences of the media and popular fashion that all too often encourages a cult of, or fascination with, violence and bear in mind that the hostile environment in which so many of our constituents have to live can alienate young people. People can also be alienated by a hostile working environment, and there is nothing more hostile or more likely to breed frustration than a dole queue.
There are also difficulties for family life in general, because an 18 per cent. inflation rate and unemployment at about 1,300,000 put great pressure on family life, and when that is under pressure law and order will eventually suffer. The real miracle is that there has not been more law breaking and crime in these circumstances and this climate of opinion.
What should be done? We need to recognise that society and taxpayers are prepared to pay more for adequate law and order in all parts of the community. This must mean, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border said, a better deal for the police to bring their pay and conditions back to a proper level. It must also mean more secure accommodation for young offenders, as is recommended by some of my hon. Friends in the excellent pamphlet "Apprentices in Crime" and, if necessary, the expansion and modernisation of our prisons. This last issue has been dodged for far too long.
328 If we are to make sense when we talk about law and order we must widen the definition of paying for adequate law and order, and that must include a willingness by society to pay not only for enforcement and police services but for our penal system and probation service. We must see that we allocate the money that is required. Police throughout the country are voting with their feet by quitting the force at the highest rate for nine years. This must be stopped if we value the quality of life in our society.
We must also try to deal with the deeper causes of crime and not just its symptoms, which are all too well documented in the Press and the media. We must get on top of inflation so that we can afford proper law enforcement, and we must avoid the sort of situation in which the CID in London was apparently recently considering the possibility of banning some extra work because of restrictions on overtime.
We must use the money available from a healthy economy to provide more domiciliary family planning on the National Health Service and to boost the still inadequate effort on nursery and primary training as well as providing more vocational elements in our schools and further education.
All this is relevant to creating a climate in which crime does not increase and in which people have a more hopeful opportunity for their families' future. Above all, we must see what we can do to enable the police, at least in some parts, to return to community orientation similar to that in Lisson Grove, in Marylebone, where there is a much closer connection between local people and the bobby on the beat.
It is alarming to note that youngsters under the age of 16 commit 27 per cent. of all crimes in London and that 49 per cent. of the crimes are committed by those under 20. Because of the disproportionate number of young people involved, we must concentrate on improving the facilities for, and influences working on, our young people. The situation may be helped in the longer term by demographic trends, because we have a rapidly ageing population and, as far ahead as we can see, it seems likely that there will be a smaller percentage of young people in the crime-committing age groups in the years ahead. Perhaps we can draw some small consolation from that fact.
329 We must identify the forces that are helping to create a more dishonest and selfish society and resolve to counteract them in all the ways that we know. If we do all or some of the things that I have suggested we shall not defeat crime, because—like poverty—it will always be with us, but we shall help to prevent it increasing and shall ensure that it does not pay for an increasing number of those who are now attracted to it.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Robin Hodgson (Walsall, North)
Hon. Members have spoken a great deal about the deterrent effects resulting from long and heavy sentences, unpleasant prison conditions arid the likelihood of crime being detected. I have no doubt that the probability of crime being detected is the most important deterrent that there can be. I therefore support everything that my hon. Friends have said about the importance of strengthening the police forces and improving recruitment and police pay. It is very sad that the Government have missed so many chances and have fluffed so many opportunities to settle this problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) spoke about the importance of community policing and of the experiments here in London. The importance of the man on the beat cannot be overestimated. The policeman knows his area and the people, both the good and the bad, and is able to make a real contribution not only in direct detection and prevention of crime but also by guiding people—particularly young people—who show signs of going astray and who would benefit from a helping hand or guidance at the right time in their young lives.
However, all these points deal with the symptoms rather than the causes. I wish to look at the causes of crime, because unless we can tackle crime at its root and deal with the causes we shall not make significant progress in reducing crime. I wish to refer particularly to urban stress areas, of which there are some in my constituency.
It is a sobering experience to go to the offices of the local council in one's town. If one goes to see the housing manager and looks at areas with deprived housing conditions, one is shown pins 330 on a map clustered in certain areas of the town. If one then goes to see the rent officer, one sees a similar map showing areas where people are in arrears with their rent, and again pins on the map are clustered in the same area. The pattern is repeated as one goes to the education department to see which areas have the highest rate of truancy, to another section of the education department to discover in which areas people leave school at the earliest possible opportunity, to the health department to see which areas suffer most from infectious diseases, to the social services department to see in which area the greatest number of people are being given advice, and to the local employment exchange to see which areas suffer most from unemployment. In every case the same parts of the town are affected.
Not surprisingly, when one goes to the police station one finds that the areas with low housing and educational standards and general conditions which lead to a cycle of deprivation, are the areas which have a high rate of crime and produce persistent offenders.
When considering prevention of crime, it is important to consider how to tackle the root causes—namely, the problems that arise again and again in the same relatively limited areas of most towns and cities. It is for these reasons that I am particularly concerned about the Government's approach to urban problems. It seems that the Government are attempting to tackle urban problems on a very localised basis. They have taken one or two city centre areas to which they propose to devote additional resources, but they have ignored the vast areas of council housing estates in the old towns that surround so many city centres.
I come from the Black Country, which is made up of a multiplicity of what were once independent townships. Over a period of time these have gradually become merged in the conurbation of Greater Birmingham. The centres of most of these towns reproduce the same symptoms of urban deprivation and urban crime as the city centre of Birmingham itself, but, unfortunately, the Government are proposing to give additional funds only to the centre of Birmingham. This is a great pity. If some of this money could be channelled on a wider 331 basis, it would have an extremely beneficial effect in the prevention of crime.
More serious has been the Government's refusal to countenance other means of supplementing urban area resources, a course they have adopted for ideological reasons.
§ Mr. Noble
I have followed the hon. Gentleman's argument with great care. Fundamentally I agree with him. My constituency is semi-rural with urban deprivation such as he describes in small towns. The hon. Gentleman is arguing first for a shift in priorities, but secondly for a considerable increase in public expenditure. How does he square that with the ideological position adopted by his party?
§ Mr. Hodgson
On the question of needs and priorities, I was discussing how we could raise additional resources. We have talked about the sale of council houses and the release of resources from new towns, those resources to be redeployed in urban areas. There are other examples of money that is wasted and could have been better deployed in the urban areas.
Above all, the Government stand condemned over their failure to increase the feeling of responsibility among people. They have totally failed to seize the opportunities of enabling people to take responsibility for their own lives. The treatment of many council house tenants borders on the fraudulent. The Government consider such tenants in many cases as nothing more than recalcitrant children. They are not given the opportunities to make decisions which will greatly affect their lives. If the Government create an attitude by which people have no responsibility for their future, those people are not prepared to assume responsibility for their surroundings, their housing or the estates on which they live. In that sort of mental attitude crime and irresponsibility quickly breed. These failures of the Government in the treatment of urban areas, the deployment of resources and the fostering of a sense of responsibility seem to underlie so much of the increase in urban crime and so many of the problems of urban society.
The Government stand condemned for their ham-fisted handling of the police dispute, which has been a shocking catalogue of missed chances.
332 I turn to one aspect of crime—urban vandalism. Since my relatively recent arrival in the House, I have been made aware by my constituents of two particular aspects of the problem. The first is the senseless nature of so much vandalism. It is not carried out for gain. We do not approve of the man who robs a bank, but we can understand his motive. The motivation of someone who pulls up trees and destroys allotments, or who senselessly destroys park benches, bus shelters or public conveniences, seems to strike at the root of much of our civilised society.
The second aspect of vandalism is the psychological bullying that it so often entails. Vandals turn on people who are less able to protect themselves. They turn on old people living in their bungalows or old people's dwellings. Elderly people who are living alone have their windows rattled at midnight and find that rubbish is pushed through their letter-boxes. This is psychological warfare which may appear relatively trivial, but to old-age pensioners who are perhaps unsteady on their feet and unable to defend themselves as able-bodied people are able to it is excessively frightening and worrying. The Government are showing a considerable lack of urgency in dealing with the problem. There is a rising tide of public opinion against the activities of these gangs and groups.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) will forgive me when I say that I do not relish the thought of the reintroduction of capital punishment, but there is no doubt that there is a rising tide of public opinion that is demanding its reintroduction. Unless the Government are able to show greater urgency, more firmness, clear-sightedness and determination than hitherto, pressure for its reintroduction may well become irresistible.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
In the few minutes that are left before my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) rises to reply on behalf of the Opposition, I wish to follow exactly what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Hodgson).
333 There is a rising tide of public opinion that we are not meeting the great increase in crimes of violence to the person and crimes of violence to property and damage to property with the appropriate penalties—penalties that will not only protect the public but will be a real deterrent to the criminal. I find myself convinced, together with about 80 per cent. of the public, that the only appropriate punishment for the juvenile who commits violence against the person—the young fellow who shows inhuman cruelty to elderly people—should be a penalty to fit the crime.
We should recognise that we have not really considered the deterrent effect of corporal punishment for over a quarter of a century. We last considered it at the time of the Barry Committee, which was set up to deal with problems arising from Teddy Boys. The enormous increase in crimes of violence and damage to property since then has given rise to a completely different situation. Who can blame the public for feeling that something more should be done when we read of the sort of cases that are represented by the bundle of papers before me. They are all cases from Merseyside, wherein lies my constituency. I shall give the House one or two examples.
Stephen Sherlock is a cripple, with no legs. As a result of an attack his skull was fractured and he had to have 30 stitches in his head. He was unconscious for eight hours. A mugger entered a back room through a window when Mr. Sherlock was asleep. His hands were tied behind his back and he was beaten about the head. Incidentally, Mr. Sherlock has been refused a home help and has had no visit from a social worker. When the public read of that sort of case they feel that we are being too soft with the criminal and are not paying sufficient attention to the victim.
Mrs. Alice Mitchell suffered an attack requiring 29 stitches in her head. She was badly shocked. She had a number of other injuries. A mugger entered her home for no real purpose and beat her up.
Mrs. Gladys Taylor was walking home from church when she was flung to the ground. She struggled to hold on to her handbag, which was eventually stolen. The mugger jumped on her feet —[Interruption.] It may be humorous 334 to think of it, but that is the type of thoughtless injury to the person that is now being committed by young persons.
Who can blame the public for feeling that such criminals should get a little of their own medicine? The very least that we can do for those who take that view is to set up a commission to consider again whether corporal punishment should reasonably be introduced, and whether it would be a real deterrent to inhuman juveniles who commit acts of cruelty and create great fear among the public by the mugging that is taking place.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) was right to point out the real anger, anxiety and concern that the public feel about this subject.
It is always popular to begin a reply by saying that we have had an excellent and constructive debate, but those hon. Members who have been here for most of the day will accept that it has been a constructive debate. Those who heard the speeches made by my hon. Friends the Members for Walsall, North (Mr. Hodgson) and Carshalton (Mr. Forman) will, I am sure, accept that this has been an extremely constructive debate, in which useful views have been expressed.
I suggest that that is the result of the decision by the Opposition to have a full day's debate on the subject and not to have a vote at the end. In view of what the Secretary of State for Scotland said, I should make it clear that not having a vote does not mean that we are in any sense satisfied with the Government's actions, or lack of actions, for the prevention of crime. Indeed, the overwhelming view of hon. Members on both sides of the House—for example, the hon. Members for Blyth (Mr. Ryman) and Dundee, West (Mr. Doig)—is that the Government's response to a serious national emergency has been inadequate, if not woefully so.
A number of constructive suggestions have been put forward to which I hope the Minister will respond in winding up the debate. We all accept that the maintenance of law and order should be fundamental to democracy. That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for 335 North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith). Therefore, I hope the Minister will comment on some of the specific points that have been made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) referred to the need to look at the reform of the character of detention centres. That is a matter on which hon. Members from both north and south of the border are agreed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) was right to point out the importance of the Special Constabulary. I am sure that he and others will have seen that in "The Right Approach" the Conservative Party has endeavoured to set out some of the principles of the future policy of a Conservative Government and has made it clear that the Special Constabulary has an important priority in its planning.
There was, as was to be expected, considerable discussion about picketing with particular reference to Grunwick. The hon. Member for Blyth put forward the most astonishing view, namely, that hon. Members who had taken part in the picketing were in some way helping to advance their careers. Apart from that, I think that all hon. Members approached that matter seriously.
The hon. Member for Dundee, West was right when he said that people were rather sickened by the trade union movement because of the activities of a small number of hooligans who did not have the good will or interests of the trade union movement at heart. It was generally accepted that the activities of some of these wild extremists, who are not bona fide trade unionists or interested in the welfare of the trade union movement, had done a great deal of damage to it.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner), the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) and my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) and Carshalton pointed out that at a time when the police in the Metropolitan area are under dreadful stress because of the increase in crime it is indefensible that so many police officers should have their time taken up by having to attend this silly picketing.
336 We had a full-scale debate on capital punishment. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) put forward one point of view with great sincerity and the hon. Member for Dundee, West put forward another point of view with equal sincerity.
I hope that the Minister will respond to the important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West about reducing temptation, particularly in supermarkets.
I think that the Minister will at least accept that, come what may, there has been little complacency in the debate. That is important. We do no service in Parliament or elsewhere by adopting what is or may appear to be a complacent attitude to the frightening increase in crime in recent years or to the serious manpower shortage and low morale in the police forces.
I think that all hon. Members were certainly concerned about what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. MacKay), who referred to people in his constituency living in fear and whose lives were being disrupted by the activities of hooligans and vandals. I am sure that many of us find similar problems in our constituencies.
Many figures and statistics on crime have been put forward in the debate. Among those which have been produced, the most telling were those given to me the other day in Parliament by the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland. The figures related to the increase in convictions for killing or violence both north and south of the border since 1963, which, incidentally, was the year before the Bill to abolish capital punishment was introduced.
On 28th June, in a Written Answer, the Secretary of State for Scotland told me that in Scotland, during the period from 1963 to the present time, the numbers of murders had increased from two to 41, which is certainly a substantial rise. There is every indication that that figure will become higher.
It could be argued that we pick out high or low years to coincide with a particular point of view. It is therefore even more telling that in the 10 years up to 1963 the total number of murder convictions was 39—an average of less than 337 four per year. In the 10 years up to and including 1976 the total was 314—an average of over 31 per year. The killing rate has therefore increased dramatically.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North said that this might be linked with an increase in convictions for culpable homicide. The figures show the opposite to be true. In Scotland there were 15 convictions for attempted murder in the 10 years up to 1963. In the past 10 years the total was 257. That is a more than 17-fold increase. Culpable homicide convictions have risen from 136 to 310. That means that there has been a dramatic rise in convictions for murder, attempted murder and culpable homicide.
The same applies to England. As the Home Secretary advised me in a letter, there has been a dramatic rise in killings and violence. In the 10 years up to 1963 there were 364 murder convictions in England and Wales. In the past 10 years there have been 1,029. In short, the numbers of murder convictions have just about trebled. Manslaughter convictions show an even more serious rise, from 754 in the 10 years up to 1963 compared with 2,425 in the past 10 years.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns was right to say that crimes of violence were just as important, because they could have amounted to murder if it had not been for the skill of our surgeons. In England and Wales the rise in convictions for crimes of violence has been even more worrying than it has been in Scotland. In 1963 there were under 13,000 convictions for crimes of violence in England and Wales. In 1976 there were over 38,000 convictions. That is a dramatic and savage rise.
On the basis of the Government's statistics, there has been a frightening and worsening increase in killings and violence.
§ Mr. Taylor
We have had a long discussion about the reasons for crime. It is important to try to identify the reasons for the increase in crime. We have had considerable discussion about vandalism, which is becoming a serious social disease.
338 It is a serious problem in Glasgow. A few days ago a major housing improvement scheme had to be abandoned because of vandalism. The contractors said that there was no way of keeping within the cost without a reduction in vandalism. Money is being spent in Glasgow and elsewhere on the improvement of properties, but such schemes have had to he abandoned because of vandalism.
Many reasons for the problem have been advanced. Some people argue that it is an inevitable part of a society which is becoming increasingly violent because of the pressure of social change. If this were the case, should there not have been a frightening rise after the Second World War, with all the social upheavals involved in the return to a peace-time economy, with men coming home from the war? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] There should not have been? As we all know, there was not such a substantial rise immediately after the Second World War. In fact, in Scotland there was relative stability.
§ Mr. Taylor
I certainly agree that discipline is a very important factor, but if we are talking about social change and family upheaval, I think that the hon. Gentleman—who is rather older than I am and is getting older all the time—will accept that those who came home from the war had to cope with many problems of readjustment.
The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson) talked about changes in the home, and my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst talked about standards. The hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker), in an excellent speech, talked about the importance of the man on the beat and referred to the Panda car as a disaster. Other hon. Members pointed out, quite rightly, that in the old days, when there was a man on the beat and there were no Panda cars, people did not complain about police cover. But, although the Panda car has major problems of direct contact with the public, there are few who would deny that in a city area, where there is a serious crime 339 problem and a manpower shortage, the police can get to a crime very quickly indeed with the aid of the Panda car.
Some people lay the blame for increased crime on unemployment. Certainly the grim prospect of longer dole queues than at any time since the 1930s must have an effect—and a serious one—on the morale of young people. But there was no significant sign of a change in the pattern in the days of the Conservative Government, when things were much brighter. In fact, at the time there were many who put the blame for increased crime on the problems of affluence and over-full employment. I am sure that those who were here at the time will remember that it was said that the reason for the increase in crime was that we had too much affluence and over-full employment.
Poor education and poor housing have also been blamed. Certainly, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North was quite right in talking about the problems of inner city planning. There are very severe problems in both areas. But, as we now have a surplus and not a shortage of teachers, and as vast sums have been spent on housing, particularly in the city areas, it is rather difficult to accept these as reasons for an upsurge in crime such as we are having at present.
Even if acceptable solutions in those directions could be found, it is certainly not much comfort for the increasing proportion of the population who find that their lives are being disrupted, as my hon Friend the Member for Stechford said, by the activity of the vandal and the thug. I doubt whether the public will have reason to be satisfied with Governments who claim to have the ability to solve complex monetary problems and to work out prices and incomes policies and all the rest of it, when they are singularly unable to solve the problem of crime and violence on the streets of our towns and cities
What needs to be done? A number of proposals have been put forward. Some people have asked for more policemen on the beat. Others have said that we have to change society. I believe that the first action to be taken by the Government must be to have a searching and honest reappraisal of the major changes in law 340 and practice in the mid-1960s, which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby said, included the abolition of capital punishment, the establishment of children's panels in Scotland, the extension of parole and the reduction in the priority given to a fully-manned police force of high morale.
There are many who say that the division between the so-called tough policies and the so-called soft policies is meaningless, and they are probably right. Most people have adopted very entrenched positions on the more emotive deterrents. But when crime is soaring there is a need for such a reappraisal.
The hon. Member for Kingswood and my hon. Friend the Member for Stechford said that there is a need for rethinking when things are getting so bad. I believe that the division is a real one. We can see it in the attitude of hon. Members who have spoken of the congestion in prisons and in the courts. Some have argued that the right step is not to send to prison people who do not pay fines, and not to send to prison people who cause breaches of the peace, although the alternative has not been made very clear. It is all very well to argue that people should not be sent to prison for breaches of the peace, but it is important to put forward alternatives.
There are others who argue that if sentences were such as to strike fear into the hearts of potential offenders there might be fewer people going to prison in the longer term. Likewise our Scottish Lord Advocate, who I am glad to see present, faced with a situation in which the courts of Glasgow are grossly overcrowded, is considering what he calls "alternatives to prosecution".
There are others who might argue that a more vigorous prosecution allied to stronger penalties might reduce the burdens on the courts. If we carry on as at present, I believe that a change will have to come one way or the other. I think that most hon. Members have accepted this.
The courts will be in danger of breaking down unless the volume of cases is reduced or unless another solution can be found. Likewise the prisons, as has been said, are facing a crisis. On 25th July 1975 Mr. Roy Jenkins, who has since left us, stated that if the prison 341 population should rise to, say 42,000, conditions in the system would approach the intolerable and drastic action would have to be taken. In October 1976 the prison total reached 42,006, and there is no sign of such drastic action. I do not think that it can be delayed for long. Either we shall simply have to stop prosecuting people or stop sending them to prison or we shall have to change course in some other direction.
It is no secret that I personally share the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby. I believe that we should adopt the course of reintroducing deterrents like capital and corporal punishment and that the penalties for crimes of violence should be increased. This, of course, is a personal view and not a party view, but I think that there are few members of my party, or few hon. Members in the House, who would argue that there will not have to be some major change of direction one way or the other before long. We certainly cannot carry on as we are doing at present.
§ Mr. Forman
Does my hon. Friend accept the point I tried to make, that if one had a wider definition of paying for law and order one would feel justified in saying to the community that we should spend more money on modernising and extending both the prison and the probation services?
§ Mr. Taylor
Yes, indeed. There is no doubt that this is certainly the second approach that will have to be adopted as a matter of urgency, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) said. I only wonder whether detection is the whole answer and whether, by having a fully-manned police force, we would necessarily deal with this problem at its roots.
However, the second step must be to have a wholly new approach to the subject of police manpower and morale. In the debate on 27th January, the Secretary of State for Scotland stated that there was no foundation for statements that the Government's actions had undermined support for the police. But it is a sad fact that there has never in my memory been a time when police morale was so low. Every Conservative Member who has spoken has agreed that it is a shameful reflection on the Government's policies that at a time of record unem- 342 ployment so many police officers should be voting with their feet and leaving the police service to take jobs as taxi drivers, security officers and milk roundsmen, as was indicated in The Sunday Telegraph this week and confirmed in official figures released since then.
For the first time since 1968, there has been an overall manpower loss in the police force. The Secretary of State for Scotland has confirmed that the same applies north of the border. The same story is told in the annual report of Strathclyde's Chief Constable. In 1976 retirement and resignations exceeded new recruitment, and the new recruitment included—as must be the case under sex discrimination legislation—the recruitment of policewomen whose normal period of service is relatively short.
There is no doubt that there is general agreement in the House that we should be willing to pay for additional police cover. Even with reduced numbers, authorities have found their efforts affected by curbs on spending which has expressed itself in cuts in overtime and rest-day working. That has had a serious effect on police cover in some areas.
Ministers have denied that there has been a major change in this direction, but the Minister may not have seen his own Home Office circular of 30th November 1976. Under the heading "Traffic Wardens, Cadets and other Civilian Staff", it said:Police authorities have already been asked in Home Office Circular Number 138/1975 to allow civilian strengths to fall, by wastage, to I per cent. below actual strengths 30th September 1974. It is now suggested that further savings be achieved by allowing the strength of traffic wardens to fall, by not replacing wastage…Other civilian staff should be reduced where this has not already been done, to 1 per cent. above the base date strength by 31st March 1977".The areas of largest expenditure which are among those that might be considered for cuts include premises…heating and lighting, equipment of all kinds, catering and transport".The Government must remember, as is the case north of the border, that when there are reductions in the numbers of traffic wardens and school crossing attendants the police have to fill in. The reduction in overtime and rest-day working has had a severe effect on the effectiveness of the police throughout the country.
343 The Secretary of State said that he was prepared to review the machinery for discussing police pay. Will the Minister of State say more about that? If this machinery is to be set up now to review the Police Council arrangements, he must be aware that the next pay settlement is due in September, which does not allow much time. Does he really think that this can be done? He would do better to follow the wise advice of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border and establish another totally new review body, along the lines of the Willink Report.
In addition, penalties should be reviewed. For example, in Scotland the maximum penalty for possessing an offensive weapon is £50 or three months' imprisonment. Something also needs to be done to give further protection to witnesses. Changes in the law should also be considered in terms of powers of search. It seems ludicrous that the police cannot search anyone for weapons if they refuse to co-operate but that they can search people for drugs or the eggs of wild birds.
There is an urgent need for action to review the laws and perhaps most of all to take the necessary steps to produce a fully-manned police force with high morale. The message of this debate is that there is acute concern that we appear to be losing the battle against crime. I hope that this debate will at least make the Government aware of our genuine concern that their policies are not succeeding in containing crime and that what is needed is an urgent reappraisal of policies, of attitudes and of priorities.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Brynmor John)
We are all at one in wishing to prevent crime, which is almost like saying that we are against sin. The problems have been delineated sharply but the solutions seem less clear and until we get to particulars, we are not doing enough. Ministers must tread a path which the Opposition and Back Benchers do not have to concern themselves with. If they try to put the problem in its correct perspective, they are complacent, but if they join in the general expressions of concern, they are dismissed as having no contribution to make to the problem.
344 The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) dealt with this debate as if it were a continuation of January's debate and nothing had gone on in between. But we have had the Criminal Law Bill. It has had a Second Reading and a Committee stage, in which we have discussed many of the problems that have been raised today. This debate is not really a matter that is touched upon here and there only on the insistence of the Opposition it has been discussed and canvassed very widely.
It is the fact that hon. Members often do not follow proceedings of Committee that led the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) into error in a speech that I otherwise admired. He was talking about alcoholism and fine defaulters as if the situation were static and had not been altered by the Criminal Law Bill. By now he should be aware that the Government have removed the penalty of imprisonment for being drunk and disorderly —the purely alcoholic offence—and we propose to introduce an amendment tomorrow to the effect that the penalty of imprisonment for fine defaulters should be dependent upon wilful refusal to pay or culpable negligence. That is the test for maintenance defaulters, and we thought that it was right to impose the same test for fine defaulters. There is evidence that many people who are committed to prison simply do not have the means to pay their fines. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins) is not practising what he does best—keeping the traditional Whips' silence.
§ Mr. John
By law magistrates are supposed to launch an inquiry into means at this stage. The fact has been repeated in many contributions from all parts of the House that this is not done to the extent that it should be done. That is why we are underlining the point in tomorrow's amendment.
It is not merely a comparison between one year or another or between one Government and another when we discuss the rise in crime. This rise is distressing, 345 and it remits and burgeons spontaneously and independently of the legal environment in which it exists. There has been a steady rise in crime in recent years. whatever Government have been in power, and it is our task, wherever possible, to minimise this rise and fight against crime.
We do not exist in a vacuum in this country, much as some hon. Members like to think we do when they debate this matter. We live in an increasingly violent world, and crime rates in other countries are often escalating far more quickly than ours. It is a complex problem, and there is no sovereign cure or all-purpose remedy. If anyone pretends that there is, he is misleading and disillusioning the public far more than those of us who are more modest and ready to admit that there is no perfect understanding of the roots of crime or of the solutions to it.
If the harshness of sentencing were all that was required to cure crime the solution of our problems would be extremely simple. It is precisely because crime is not directly amenable to harsh penalties and has more complex causes that we have the problem that we are facing today.
Although I am ready to face the problem and do not wish to minimise it in any way, I stress that there is a danger in overstating it.
I wish to refer to the report of Sir James Haughton, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, for last year, which shows that reported crime outside the Metropolitan Police district rose by 0.6 per cent. That is not cause for complacency. On the other hand, it is not ammunition for the kind of alarmism that can be aroused. There is a difference within various areas. Obviously the problem in the Metropolitan Police District is a more serious one than in other parts of the country, but even within crimes there are variations in incidence and the rate of rise. The two most serious examples of increases in types of crime relate to criminal damage, the figure for which rose by 19 per cent., and cases of violence against the person, which rose by 9 per cent. Those two figures give cause for the utmost alarm. In contrast, outside the Metropolitan District, robberies—which include muggings since there is no legal definition of "mugging"—were 346 down by 11 per cent. last year; burglary was down by I per cent., fraud and forgery down by 3 per cent., and sexual crime decreased by 7 per cent.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner
May I return to an earlier point made by the Minister? He dealt with the situation in which fines were not paid because the person concerned had no money with which to foot the bill. Was he saying that magistrates must send people to prison if they do not pay fines, and, indeed, have no money to pay them, or was he suggesting that magistrates have a discretion, which inevitably they will exercise in favour of the person who has no money?
§ Mr. John
I was saying precisely the opposite. I apologise if I did not make the point clear, but I remind the House that we shall be debating this matter tomorrow evening. Although the situation is serious, we must examine it realistically as reflected in the figures and must not pay too much heed to newspaper headlines, which can create an atmosphere giving an impression that the more serious crimes are rising when the statistics show that they are falling.
§ Mr. Forman
Has the Minister considered a more indirect explanation of the growth of crime? Has he considered the possible effect on public attitudes in terms of dishonesty because of penally high rates of taxation? Has he drawn any lessons from the situation in other countries in which high rates of taxation have led to high rates of dishonesty?
§ Mr. John
I have heard various explanations of the high criminal statistics. I have even heard that the bonus system is the root of dishonesty. To attribute dishonesty to the kind of root cause to which the hon. Gentleman has alluded is to adopt the kind of coin-operated solution that misleads people as to the ease with which we shall overcome the problem.
Our purpose in imposing penalties to prevent crime is twofold. First, we wish to deter those who might commit crime from committing crime at all. We shall never discover from the nature of the deterrents imposed how many people are so deterred. Secondly—and here I return to the question of punishment—we have the prevention of re-offence. I must say 347 to my hon. Friends who say that one is more concerned with those who have committed crimes than with the victims that it is in the interests of society as a whole to maximise the prevention of re-offence.
The more people we can prevent from re-offending when they emerge from imprisonment, the better society is. We have heard about harsh remedies and there have been sneers about holiday camps. If we put people into an unduly harsh environment, there is nothing more certain than that they will come out from prison bent upon revenge on society, bent upon re-offence. That is why I say to any hon. Member who believes that imprisonment is the equivalent of staying at a holiday camp that he should study the facts. He should study some of the conditions in, for example, not only the long-term prisons but the local prisons. Anyone who comes away with the impression that they are holiday camps must have extremely low standards.
There are several strands which deserve further mention. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border referred to parental responsibility. The most effective way of preventing crime is to ensure that the upbringing and outlook of young children are such that they never even come near the courts or the police, by which time it is much more difficult to prevent re-offence than to prevent the original offence.
I reject the belief that there are vast numbers of hardened juvenile criminals about. There are a number of persistent re-offenders in the juvenile ranks, the exact number of which is unknown even to the Magistrates' Association and to all the other bodies. But neither do I believe that the number of juvenile offences has risen disproportionately to the rest of crime. That may be an unduly modest outlook, but I believe in modesty in saying what we can tackle and what we cannot.
For the second year running, there has been a welcome decrease in the incidence of detected juvenile crime. Last year it went down by 3 per cent. I would go further than the right hon. Gentleman and to a certain extent dispute the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Hodgson), for example, by saying 348 that there is a wider responsibility here than the parental, and that is social responsibilty, the responsibility of each individual to his society, which includes the maintenance of not only what he calls his own private property but property that is owned in common with the community in which he lives, such as local authority property. There is far too often an inclination to believe that what is public property is no one's property and that, therefore, it may be destroyed or damaged at will.
I want to stress again the importance of public co-operation with the police in crime prevention. In, for example, community relations work, many police forces work extremely hard to build up confidence in their local communities and try to overcome distrust. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) questioned whether the Police Complaints Board was entirely justified. I would refer him to the second paragraph on page 1 of Sir James Haughton's report for last year, where he entertains no such doubt. He says that it will prove a bonus to the police that they have responsibility to the public and are seen to be publicly accountable.
§ Mr. John
I understand what the hon. Gentleman says about Sir Robert Mark. I am quoting from Sir James Haughton, who issued the report. I believe that his words should be weighed against the words of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, which in substance reproduces what Sir Robert Mark has said.
I now want to deal with the matter which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker), among others. That is the relative value of the policeman on the beat as opposed to the Panda car operator. It seems that in this debate some hon. Members have forgotten that time has passed since the policeman on the beat was the sole means of policing this country. In many areas, such as the suburbs of London, people now go to work and take children to school by car. In many large and sprawling suburbs the policeman on the beat would have far less opportunity to meet the public than he does when in a Panda car. Some hon. Members believe in a sort of golden age that did not exist in 349 many parts of the country, except in their own idealised recollections. If the police are to be able to control vast areas and large beats sufficiently, and to respond to crime, they need up-to-date methods. The Panda car operator has a place in containing crime.
I differentiate sharply between that position and that of the decaying inner city areas, where the presence of the policeman on the beat is valuable. That is why one cannot generalise. One must consider the operational necessities of each area and decide which is the optimum way of patrolling those areas.
Our laws and penalties must be relevant to the issues involved. I refer again to the Criminal Law Bill. We are making penalties and fines more relevant and giving courts the maximum flexibility that they need in imposing the right penalties to fit the offenders.
I take issue with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) over hanging. I do not believe that hanging was a deterrent against murder generally. I do not believe the hon. Gentleman's statistical evidence. I notice that he did not quote my letter to him in full.
§ Mr. John
When I wrote to the hon. Gentleman, I drew distinctions showing how limited was the reliance to be placed on the figures because of the many other factors involved. I come back to what was said by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns. It is significant that, while crimes of violence have risen generally by 170 per cent., crimes of homicide have risen by only 61 per cent., so it does not seem that the homicide 350 rate is growing disproportionately. In fact, the increase in the rate is less steep than for crimes of violence.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor rose—
§ Mr. John
No. The hon. Gentleman took more time than we agreed, and I must complete what I am saying.
We have held two examinations about corporal punishment. The last resulted in the Barry Report, which concluded that more offenders re-offended after having been birched than those who re-offended who had not been birched. The statistical evidence, so far as it exists, is against corporal punishment in that particular.
I come now to the police. An opinion which has been greatly canvassed here today has been about the probability of detection as a deterrent to crime. I must re-emphasise that police numbers compared with the beginning of 1975 are up by about 7,000, and for the Metropolitan Police there has been an increase of over 1,300. Much has been made of the matter of wastage. I have figures to show that in the first five months of this year the net wastage from the police was 135 people. I do not glory in that, but neither do I think that it lends credence to the alarmist figures that have been bandied about and the alarmist phrases that have been used about people "voting with their feet". The Metropolitan Police has had a slight net increase in its manpower during the first rive months of this year. There are many other factors.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed without Question put.