§ Madam Speaker
I should tell the House that I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I beg to move,That this House notes that the level of recorded crime has more than doubled since 1973, that only two per cent. of all crimes results in conviction and that the threat of punishment no longer constitutes a sufficient deterrent to offenders, and that amongst the young there is a growing experience of a culture of violence and drug use; condemns the allocation by Her Majesty's Government of only one quarter of one per cent. of the criminal justice budget of £8,770 million in 1991–92 to specific crime prevention measures; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to support, monitor and promote effective locally based preventative measures where they are required and to provide both resources and support to families and schools to educate young people in their personal duties to society in general.The very purpose of a civil society is to protect the individuals within it from unrestrained and harmful behaviour—in other words, from crime. Britain today is falling very far short of that aim. The problem is neither new nor is it confined to this country. However, it is causing increasing anxiety and, in some quarters, a sense of despair and helplessness.
The purpose of the debate is to propose practical policies to tackle crime around which the House could unite. It is to offer hope when previous policies have only induced cynicism, and even despair. I will not linger on the well-known evidence that crime, and violent crime in particular, is a growing scourge. However, falling crime rates as the proper measure of a successful law and order policy is not working. The public will not accept from us the alibi that crime is rising elsewhere in other countries; nor will anxieties be allayed by the political competition for the title of "Official party of law and order".
Concern about crime will decline only when crime itself declines. This afternoon we heard from the Home Secretary about his proposals for police pay and responsibilities. It is always right to seek measures to increase the efficiency and the effectiveness of the police. I have been impressed by the evidence that police forces throughout the country have themselves been eager to innovate measures. For example, while the Home Office dithered, the Kent constabulary introduced an electronic fingerprint recognition scheme which reduced by 75 per cent. the time it took an officer to put a name to a fingerprint. The Thames Valley constabulary did not wait while the Government deliberated on the future structure of the police. The Thames Valley force slimmed down its own middle ranks on an experimental basis.
I hope that the Home Secretary will do nothing to detract from the valuable and innovative experimentation by the police. The last thing that we want in this country is a structure imposed from the centre. The debate on efficiency has been badly skewed by Sir Patrick Sheehy, who has been seeking to import commercial irrelevancies into a discussion on efficiency.
1000 Despite that, one fact stands out. The police service in Britain is more efficient today than it has ever been. Twice as many crimes are cleared up today as were cleared up 20 years ago. However, even the most efficient police service will not be able to deal conclusively with the crime problem on its own. Half of all crime is not even reported to the police, according to Home Office figures. Even a "Robocop", as seen in the recent science fiction film, which was programmed to shoot anyone who refused to obey its commands within 20 seconds would still require to be informed of the crimes. Tackling crime must be a matter for every citizen, every community and every public body.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
On reflection, does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the claim that half the crimes committed are not reported is a little spurious? Almost certainly, those figures must include minimal crimes such as minor scratches on cars, theft of milk bottles or whatever, which the ordinary citizen would not feel it worth reporting. Therefore, the matter has to be put in a different perspective from that in which the hon. Gentleman puts it.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I do not agree. The one aspect of the Home Office that stands almost beyond criticism is the research capability of its research unit. The unit does not produce such figures and facts without a good deal of careful reflection. The figures have been subjected to academic scrutiny by many institutes of criminology throughout the country. They are the most reliable figures that we have.
I take it that the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) would not seek to diminish the importance of unreported or unrecorded crimes. It is a substantial problem and one of the matters which the police wish to have addressed.
§ Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton)
I hope that the hon. Gentleman can explain something to me. He will probably agree with me that the increase in the use of drugs is one of the most significant causes of crime. Can he explain how the Liberal Democrat policy of legalising cannabis, which would put far more people in touch with the drugs culture, could assist us in reducing crime?
§ Mr. Maclennan
That policy is supported in parts of the Liberal party. I understand that the party in Scotland recommended it. I notice that several journals, including The Economist, have long advocated legalisation of cannabis. The subject is worthy of debate, but it is certainly not the official policy of the party of which I am a spokesman.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
Before we lose sight of the issue of unreported crime, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will say what contribution he and his hon. Friends were making to the law and order debate in 1988 when they voted against legislation which gave the Attorney-General the ability to appeal against lenient sentences? Does he think that that sets a good example, or was it a good example of unreported crime?
§ Mr. Maclennan
Far from being unreported, the matter is recorded in Hansard. Thefreasons were well set out on that occasion.
The need for crime prevention is unarguable. I am glad to say that my party and its predecessor party has placed 1001 the prevention of crime at the heart of the debate on law and order for almost a decade. We recommended neighbourhood watch, crime prevention panels and local authority action as long ago as 1985, when those ideas were popularly regarded as marginal to the problem of crime. Indeed, to some extent, Home Office Ministers regard them as marginal even today.
The marginality in the Government's attitude was demonstrated even this afternoon by the Home Secretary in his remarks on Sheehy. In the last paragraph of his statement, when he was speaking about the possible benefits that would flow from more efficient structures, he said:That could mean more work on crime prevention.That does not suggest that there is any serious commitment to use additional resources for what is plainly the most effective step that can be taken to tackle the problem.
I do not wish to be unfair to the Government. They have shown some recognition of the relevance and potential of crime prevention.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle)
I thought that I heard the hon. Gentleman say a moment ago that he was against greater centralisation. Surely, then, it is up to chief officers to decide how to deploy their resources.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I am sure that when the Minister speaks in the debate he will tell us what the Government are doing. It is my purpose to show that they should be doing substantially more. No doubt the police will think it appropriate to deploy their resources effectively in crime prevention. But the success of crime prevention schemes depends on pulling together private voluntary agencies, local authorities and the police, and on the Government monitoring the work, promoting best practice and putting money into schemes in which they have seen value in the past yet to which they now show less commitment than they should.
I take one example. The safer cities programme was initiated in 1988. The locally managed schemes have had a good and successful run. I am sorry to see them progressively strangled by lack of funds. We have been told that the projects are temporary. I have to tell the Minister that crime, and crime under Conservative Governments, is not temporary. The need for crime prevention does not lessen simply because the Home Office has decided not to invest in it any further.
I hope that the Minister will assure the House today that the safer cities programme will not only be continued indefinitely but be expanded. The Minister should not be too preoccupied with the balance sheet, because crime prevention is a blue-chip investment. The cost in policing, court time, legal aid and custodial and community sentencing incurred by a single crime far outweighs the cost of preventing that crime from occurring in the first place.
Despite initiatives such as the safer cities programme, the Government's commitment to crime prevention deserves only two cheers. Last year the Home Office spent £15.7 million on specific crime prevention measures out of a total criminal justice bill of some £8.7 billion. That imbalance reveals the Government's true priorities. Crime prevention remains at the bottom of the list. It is almost an afterthought.
1002 Of course, crime prevention does not deliver the headlines that the Government wish to achieve. "Bang 'em up" is far more appealing than "Practical partnerships work".
§ Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that some crimes cannot be prevented and some criminals cannot be deterred? We have to do something with that residue of hard-core criminals. I put it to him that the only way to deal effectively with them is, as he puts it, to "bang them up".
§ Mr. Maclennan
I agree with the hon. Gentleman without cavil or qualification, as I shall make plain.
§ Mr. Maclennan
No. This is a short debate and I have already given way many times.
The Home Office's own research has estimated that prison sentencing would need to increase by 25 per cent. to reduce crime by about 1 per cent. The cost involved in building and maintaining the new prisons that would be needed is out of all proportion to their value. To my mind, the public get the biggest bang for their buck from crime prevention. It is preferable to ever greater expenditure on prisons which have little discernible effect on the actual levels of crime.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I must make it plain to the hon. Gentleman and the House that I do not intend to give way again. This is a two-hour debate and it is a rare opportunity to discuss the issue. I do not wish to delay the House.
The Government give the appearance that they tailor their policy rather more to the needs of the party conference than to the needs of the public in general. Such an approach has the effect of moving the spotlight away from the practical measures which are needed, and which are open to every community, to curtail crime. One example will be well within the recollection of Conservative Members. The joyriders legislation was a crisis measure rushed through the House in a frenzy. It grabbed some headlines. In my discussions with the police they have told me that the legislation has been far from effective. I doubt whether a single joyrider has been deterred by it.
Crime Concern, a charitable body partly funded by the Home Office, has operated so-called motor projects for young people to divert them from joyriding and from crime. Crime Concern has claimed a 98 per cent. success rate in preventing joyriders from reoffending. The contrast between the two approaches of the Home Office—both are favoured by the Home Office—is striking.
I bow to no one in my determination to punish serious criminals with an appropriate time in prison. However, I will not be diverted from my belief that prevention is better and more reliable than cure. The Minister must accept the disproportion between the great costs and the small benefits of imprisoning even the most minor offenders. Is not it better and cheaper to keep people out when there are better ways to protect society from their crimes and, ideally, to prevent those crimes from being committed in the first place?
§ Mr. Maclennan
I regret that the hon. Gentleman is deaf.
Two specific types of crime in respect of which crime prevention has an important role to play are domestic violence and racial violence. Some people believe that crime prevention is little more than an attempt to put locks on doors and seek to elevate that into great public service. I admit that it can sometimes look like that. However, even if that were true, it would not be wholly unacceptable. Good locks can prevent crime and leave households intact and the police free to do other things.
I believe that crime prevention has great relevance to violent crime. The degree of violence in our society has risen steadily over several decades. Every year we expect the level of violent crime to remain at best static; if it rises one year, we adjust ourselves to that level and expect it to do the same in future. As Edmund Burke once said,Custom reconciles us to everything.We reserve the harshest penalties and the most condemnation for violent offenders, and that is right. However, the existence of such penalties and the high clear-up rates associated with violent crimes do not appear to me—and, I suspect, to Conservative Members, some of whom have intervened today—to constitute a sufficient deterrent to potential offenders.
The commandment that is most observed in this matter is "Thou should not get caught." That is particularly true in cases of domestic violence. We have moved a long way with regard to our acceptance of the seriousness of domestic violence. Wife-beating remained legal until 100 years ago. However, we have not gone far enough. It may be a crime that takes place between intimates, but it is violence and it must be treated with the seriousness that it deserves.
Research conducted by a number of sources, most recently by Manchester university, revealed two significant facts about domestic and racial violence. The first was the extent to which they are under-reported. One in 35 domestic assaults and only six in 10 racial assaults are reported to the police; even fewer are recorded as crimes and investigated further.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I am coming to that. I want the House to accept the fact that both domestic and racial attacks tend to be repeated within short periods. The majority of recorded offences are associated with relatively few victims and offenders. That is where prevention has a role.
The evidence suggests that once an offence is reported to the police, another is likely to follow soon after. Our responsibility is to break that pattern. The Government have failed in their duty to support the victims of domestic and racial violence. As long ago as 1975, a Select Committee recommended that there should be three times as many women's refuges in this country as there are today. That is a manifest failure of commitment.
The Law Society has drafted a Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill which would allow the courts to make an ex parte exclusion order against a violent partner or ex-partner if that is in the interests of the victim. The Government have not yet stated their position on that and 1004 I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity of this debate to tell us the direction in which his mind is moving. The law needs to be amended.
The police have an immensely important part to play in preventing crimes of violence, as in other respects. The police have made considerable strides in that regard. For example, a police officer in south Yorkshire constructed on his kitchen table devices for recording attacks in the home on video and audio tape. Those devices are installed at the invitation of a victim where a repeat offence is expected. The victim feels more secure as a result of those devices and the police can gather valuable first-hand evidence. Devices like that, and the devices which were used to catch people who abused the owner of a Chinese takeaway on an almost nightly basis, are immensely important to help prevent crimes of violence and other crimes.
As I want to draw my remarks to a conclusion fairly speedily, I want now to consider racial violence. The Government have attempted a partnership approach. I believe that that is the key to preventing racial violence. There must be a good working relationship of mutual support and interest between the vulnerable communities, the police and the local authorities. The law provides for the eviction of council and housing association tenants who racially harass or attack their neighbours. However, it provides for such offences to be dealt with without reference to race as an aggravating factor. The law is not being enforced to its full potential because we do not have a systematic approach to the problem.
I put it to the Minister that there should be specialist officers in police stations with the sole responsibility for collating the details of every suspected racial incident in an area and for analysing those details and recommending a strategy to the senior commanding officer. That would enable the police to identify immediately the patterns of offending and allow them and the local community to be prepared for the next incident.
I am aware that many hon. Members want to participate in this short debate and that there are many aspects of the problems and possibilities in relation to crime prevention that I cannot possibly cover. If my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) is fortunate enough to catch your eye at the end of the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will address a number of the specific issues referred to in the motion on which I have not touched.
We all recognise that there are no easy answers to crime. The problem is complex and varied, and so must be our policies to tackle it. A policy of severe punishment has its place and is not incompatible with a policy of strong commitment to crime prevention; indeed, the one can enhance the other. However, we are in danger—this point was brought home to us in the Home Secretary's speech to the Conservative party conference—of moving towards a more unbalanced, single-track policy. Crime prevention is not an additional or optional add-on. It is a vital component of a successful law and order policy.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:commends the Government's determination to tackle crime through a broad range of measures aimed at preventing crime, punishing offenders and helping the victims of crime; recognises 1005 that government support of crime prevention takes many forms, including support of the police and support through the programmes of several government departments; believes that the key to preventing crime lies in partnership between the police, other agencies and the public; and applauds the work being done by this Government to promote and support partnership at both local and national levels.I welcome the opportunity of today's debate. There can be no doubt about the scale of the challenge that we face in tackling crime. Recorded crime has increased in every decade since the second world war. People are understandably concerned. That is why the Government's first duty is to protect the public and that is why law and order is at the top of our agenda.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) raised a number of points and I am pleased to say that I will be able to respond to several of them. However, I am bound to remind him that some of his statistics were wrong. The incidence of violent crime has remained at around 5 per cent. of the total of reported crimes for the best part of the past five years. I am sure that the House will recall that crimes involving firearms represent about one fifth of 1 per cent. of recorded crime.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland referred to sentencing. Sentencing must be a matter for the courts and the courts must decide whether a custodial sentence is appropriate. He also referred to racial violence. He will recall from our long debates earlier this year in Standing Committee on the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Bill that we agree that racial violence and racial prejudice are to be abhorred. However, I did not hear him say during those debates that it was important, as the Government believe it to be important, to maintain firm but fair immigration controls as a fundamental principle in ensuring good race relations in this country.
I cannot resist reminding the House that, in March, the hon. Gentleman issued a press release—he has claimed credit for his party on several crime prevention initiatives —about local authority crime prevention schemes. He also spoke of increased public awareness of crime prevention in Alnwick, but he omitted to mention that the lead in crime prevention in Alnwick came not from his party but from a £2.3 million Department of the Environment-funded renovation scheme.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I happen to have a copy of that press release with me. Nothing in it suggests that crime prevention schemes are being promulgated only by Liberal Democrat authorities. Happily, they are being pursued by several authorities in which the Liberal Democrats are represented. The impression was never given and it was certainly never intended that it was only Liberal Democrat authorities, although it is undoubtedly the case that they are taking a lead.
§ Mr. Wardle
The press release did not mention the Department of the Environment scheme, but the House will be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his clarification.
Last week, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) made a speech about law and order. That does not happen often, so I read his speech very carefully. It was flawed from start to finish. The right hon. Gentleman concluded that the criminal justice system was irrelevant in the fight against crime. That must be nonsense.
We need action to make sure that all elements of the criminal justice system work better. That is why the Government are taking action to prevent crime, to do all that we can to help the police to catch more criminals—too 1006 many criminals are never caught—to ensure that fewer criminals are cautioned—too many criminals are cautioned and not prosecuted—to ensure that criminals are tried fairly and quickly, and to ensure that those who are found guilty are punished appropriately. Those are exactly the powers that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is addressing. That is why we are taking action across the board. We intend to tilt the balance against the criminal and in favour of the victim.
§ Mr. Sykes
Bearing in mind my hon. Friend's comments about the Liberal Democrats, he might be interested to hear of a feature that I received from the Scarborough district housing forum. The politically correct and liberal tendency is well represented. The forum recently heard a lecture from the probation service and the minutes state:The Probation Service explained that the Scarborough area was piloting a scheme for their clients which could hopefully be extended to include other vulnerable people.Does my hon. Friend agree that many people in Scarborough would regard such people not as vulnerable, but, rather, the kind of people who would take a crowbar to an old lady's head in order to rob her of all her savings and all her life's treasures?
§ Mr. Wardle
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make it clear that society should unequivocally condemn criminals. I am sure that he will agree that much hard work is done by many honourable members of the probation service.
The right hon. Member for Yeovil does not seem to understand that an efficient and effective system of criminal justice with tough punishments forms an essential part of preventing crime. No other Government have taken crime prevention more seriously. Listening to the Opposition parties and to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, one would think that they have been pushing us all the way. The hon. Gentleman talked of Crime Concern as though his party should claim credit for it. He talked in the same vein about neighbourhood watch. Of course, the Government are the largest funder of Crime Concern. The Government set up Crime Concern and they continue to support it in that fashion. The Government backed the police with neighbourhood watch. When neighbourhood watch was set up, some Labour councils refused to co-operate. There are now 115,000 neighbourhood watch schemes throughout the country. We have had car crime prevention year, the safer cities programme, parish constables and the creation of the National Board for Crime Prevention. All those ideas were developed and taken forward by the Government.
The most telling feature of the hon. Gentleman's interest in crime prevention has been his party's voting record on law and order legislation. They voted against the. Public Order Act 1986, against the Criminal Justice Act 1988, and against the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. I believe that I am right in saying that, this year, only seven members of his party voted for the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
§ Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale)
The Minister mentioned safer cities projects. Will he guarantee that no further funds will be cut from safer cities projects?
§ Mr. Wardle
The hon. Lady should realise—it is already in the public domain—that, in addition to the 20 safer cities projects that have already been run, we intend 1007 to have a further 40 safer cities projects. It was made clear from the outset that those safer cities projects would run and that they would prompt and stimulate local investment, local partnerships and local involvement and would then move on. The hon. Lady talks as though one should continue to repeat the same investment. Does she expect us, having put locks on doors on an estate one year, to spend taxpayer's money, undo those locks and put them back again? I shall return to safer cities in a moment.
Partnership is fundamental to successful crime prevention. It involves all of us—that is, the Government, the police, local authorities, local groups, local businesses and the man or woman in the street—in the fight against crime. We all have a part to play in preventing crime from happening in the first place.
§ Mr. Ward
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in respect of crime prevention, it is what people do rather than what they say that matters? Does my hon. Friend agree also that television surveillance has a useful part to play in crime prevention? In Poole, backed by the police, the Conservative group wants television surveillance of an area in town to protect the lives and the property of people in Poole high street. The Liberal Democrat council is more concerned with a potential interference with civil liberties. It is ignoring the civil liberties of those who want to go about their work and their play in the centre of the town in safety. Is not that hypocrisy?
§ Mr. Wardle
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and Conservative councillors in his constituency are right. Throughout the country there is a growing number of examples of success with closed circuit television. That form of surveillance adds security and a feeling of safety and it also adds to watchfulness against crime.
I believe that the first duty of any Government is to protect the public and maintain law and order and to provide the police and the courts with the powers that they need to catch and punish offenders so that the public are protected. The Government have acted decisively to respond to concern about crime. This month, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary announced a comprehensive programme of action to crack down on crime and the criminal. As the House will be aware, he announced 27 new measures covering all aspects of the fight against crime.
§ Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)
If the Minister is going to refer to the empty promises that were made by the Home Secretary in his speech to the Conservative party conference, I should be grateful if he would give simple answers to questions which have not been answered. When will he keep those promises? How much money will be provided? Where is the detail? The Minister has answered none of those questions because the matter has not been thought out.
§ Mr. Wardle
The hon. Gentleman knows that we are approaching prorogation. He understands parliamentary procedure, he knows that the House will reconvene, he knows that there will be a state opening of Parliament, and he knows that there will be a Queen's Speech. My advice to him is to listen carefully to the Queen's Speech. No doubt he will learn more to his and to the country's advantage.
1008 I shall briefly remind the House of some of the measures that we have announced.
§ Mr. Wardle
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make a little progress, but of course I give way. He knows that my good will is reasonably limitless. I shall give way to him once more and I hope that his colleagues will allow me to make progress.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I apprehended that the Minister was about to leave the subject of crime prevention. Does he really think that it is defensible that the Government should spend on specific crime prevention measures a mere £15.2 million out of a total criminal justice budget of £8.6 billion?
§ Mr. Wardle
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has raised that matter. I can assure him that I intend to explode that myth shortly—nothing will give me greater satisfaction.
I have referred to further powers for the police and the courts to tackle offending on bail. We will impose tougher sentences for offenders. We will double the maximum sentence in young offenders institutions to two years. New guidelines will be provided to tighten the use of cautioning by the police. There will be acceptance of all the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, which was directed at the Government to help victims of crime. We will abolish the right of silence. The Government are determined to help the police in their job of catching criminals.
This afternoon, the House heard my right hon. and learned Friend announce his decisions on the Sheehy report —a report to the Government, not a report by the Government. Those decisions are a demonstration of the Government's commitment to support the police in their vital work.
But that is by no means all that we are doing. As my right hon. and learned Friend announced this month, we are scrapping the restrictions on the use of DNA samples and reducing the paperwork burden on the police to free more officers for operational duty. The police need have no doubts about the continuing commitment of the Government to support their work.
We are determined to make life tougher for persistent offenders and hardened criminals. We make absolutely no apology for that. But it has been suggested by Liberal Democrat Members that, in doing so, we are neglecting or abandoning efforts to prevent crime and tackle criminality at its roots. Nothing could be further from the truth. We simply do not agree that being tough on crime and preventing crime through partnership must in some way be regarded as mutually exclusive alternatives. They are not. The Government remain totally committed to crime prevention and partnership.
Before I outline the action that we are taking, I shall deal with the point raised by the hon. Gentleman. It is completely misleading to suggest that less than one quarter of 1 per cent. of expenditure on the criminal justice system goes on crime prevention. In 1991–92 public expenditure on the criminal justice system in England and Wales was £8,700 million. During that year, over £5,400 million of that sum—62 per cent.—was expenditure on the police. 1009 What are the core functions of the police? We should look at the Police Service Statement of Common Purpose and Values. I quote the opening sentence:The purpose of the Police Service is to uphold the law fairly and firmly; to prevent crime; to pursue and bring to justice those who break the law;The prevention of crime is one of the key functions of the police.
In 1992–93, estimated expenditure on the police increased to £5,900 million. That is an increase in real terms of 83 per cent. since 1978–79. Therefore, it is nonsense to suggest that Government spending on crime prevention is insignificant. Nor does it make sense to look only at expenditure on the criminal justice system. We have estimated separately that other expenditure on crime prevention across Government Departments was £200 million in 1992–93, compared with £167 million in the previous year. That is an increase of about 20 per cent.
If we look at Government spending on the inner cities on a wider front, we find that, taken together, expenditure on the Government's city challenge and urban programmes will increase from £319 million in 1992–93 to £408 million in the current financial year. Those programmes include crime prevention and community safety elements and provide significant additional benefits for inner city residents.
So the repeated suggestion by Liberal Democrat Members that Government expenditure on crime prevention amounts to less than £20 million is both inaccurate and misleading. It is irresponsible and alarmist to understate the real extent of Government expenditure on crime prevention. In doing so, hon. Members merely underline the paucity of their contribution to the challenge of tackling crime.
I shall return to the subject of partnership and crime prevention. Our partnership strategy has many strands to it.
§ Mr. Wardle
I shall give way in a moment. The hon. Gentleman will understand if I wish to make some progress and not detain the House.
Our partnership strategy has a number of clear aims: it must provide a range of opportunities for the public actively to support the police; it must seek to get agencies working together at the local level; and it must maintain partnership at the national level. The Government are taking effective action in all those areas. More members of the public are willing to help the police to tackle crime. But, of course, some are able to do more than others. That is why we have developed a range of opportunities for individuals who want to do their bit.
The special constabulary has a long tradition of giving valuable public service. Being a special constable is the finest way in which ordinary people can help the police to crack crime. It forges a link between the police arid the community. It creates an additional resource which can allow the greater experience and training of regular officers to be put to the best use.
The police reform White Paper recommended that the deployment of special constables should focus on tasks such as crime prevention and beat and patrol duties. In that way, they can contribute positively to reducing the fear and incidence of crime. That is why we are aiming to recruit an extra 10,000 special constables by 1996.
1010 Another way in which we hope to see special constables contribute is by volunteering to take part in the parish constable initiative. That initiative offers the local community the opportunity to have a real stake, if it wants it, in local arrangements for keeping the peace. We ran a competition to generate suggestions from parishes about what powers and responsibilities such a figure should have and we have based the pilot schemes on the two most common blueprints that emerged. Whether a local community ends up with a parish special constable or a parish warden, the process will involve a real partnership with the police.
I come to neighbourhood watch to which the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland alluded in his speech.
§ Mr. Stephen
Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to victim support schemes? Does he agree that a high proportion of the vast amount of money that is used to help organisations whose principal object is to help criminals should be shifted to victim support schemes?
§ Mr. Wardle
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will be aware that expenditure on victim support has increased to £8.7 million in the current year, so the emphasis is exactly as he described, and that victim support is represented on the National Board for Crime Prevention. Incidentally, that board has been looking at Home Office studies on repeat victimisation, among other things.
I return to neighbourhood watch. As I said earlier, we now have 115,000 schemes across the country covering 5 million households. That is a considerable achievement.
The second limb of our strategy on partnership is co-operation between agencies at the local level. On that, the way has been shown by our safer cities projects. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne) is interested in safer cities. I am sorry that she is at least temporarily not in her place. I am sure that she will return.
Safer cities is a successful programme. It has had many positive results in combating crime and the fear of it. Because of time constraints, I shall give only two examples. In Leicester, domestic burglaries in the South Highfields area were reduced by 62 per cent. as a result of security improvements. In Sunderland, over 3,000 elderly people who had security lights and locks fitted felt much safer in their homes. To revert to my earlier point, what should we do? Should we start other schemes, as we plan to do, or take off the locks and put them on again? I think that hon. Members understand the point.
The safer cities programme has brought together local authorities, the police, probation, business and the voluntary sector in an effective partnership to fight crime. It has tackled local issues that are of real concern to local people. Since 1988, it has sponsored more than 3,300 individual crime prevention schemes with Home Office grant amounting to more than £20 million. By next March, 16 of the 20 current projects will have been running for more than four years. They are to be succeeded by 40 new projects which will be set up in new areas so that other parts of the country can benefit.
Safer cities is not the only Government contribution to local partnership. Another example appeared this month, when the Home Office published a "Practical Guide to Crime Prevention for Local Partnerships". As I have said, 1011 the Departments throughout Whitehall make their contribution to crime prevention through their local programmes.
We also have to demonstrate a commitment to crime prevention through national partnership, which is undertaken by the Ministerial Group on Crime Prevention and by the recently formed National Board for Crime Prevention. We have recruited talented people to the national board to identify best practice and to produce creative, innovative but above all practical ideas to prevent crime. The board is concentrating in the first instance on retail crime, on youth and crime and on car crime.
The Opposition motion also referred to families and schools. There is strong evidence that children's experience of family life and their relationship with their parents play a significant role in whether they offend. Strong relationships between parents and children, with good communication, firm, affectionate and consistent discipline, an interest in the children's activities and schooling and effective supervision, can all increase the chance that children will grow up to respect other people and the law, and be able to withstand the temptations of crime.
Some parents need support in the vital task of bringing up their children to respect the law and the Government welcome and encourage that kind of support. We are also anxious to ensure that schools provide a clear moral framework in which pupils can be prepared for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life. Many schools run programmes which help to provide that sort of preparation.
The Department of Education's grant for the education support and training programme is supporting expenditure of about £10 million on schemes to reduce truancy, and of £4 million on the youth action scheme which involves youth work with youngsters who are at risk in 29 local education authority areas. The Department of the Environment's urban programme supports many projects in its 57 inner city target areas which are aimed at diverting known offenders and young people who are at risk of offending. I shall allude once again to the Home Office safer cities projects. Among many of those projects we are funding schemes associated with truancy and crime and with providing summer activities for young people to keep them off the streets and out of trouble.
Crime and drugs, as the House is aware, are often related. There is a great deal of public concern about drug misuse. Parents and young people are worried about the risks to people who take drugs. The Government put a high priority on action to tackle drugs misuse. There is an extensive programme of action against drugs. Our laws against drug traffickers are among the toughest in the world and they are made still tougher by the Criminal Justice Act. There are policies designed to give effective treatment to those who take drugs and a wide range of action is in hand to stop others at risk—especially young people—from becoming involved with drugs in the first place. The Home Office drugs prevention initiative is working with several local communities to mobilise activity to prevent drugs misuse. The police service is often involved, not only to enforce the laws against supply and possession of drugs or to deal with the network of dealers, but to increase awareness of the dangers of drugs.
1012 In conclusion, I hope that the House will now appreciate the nonsense of the suggestion that less than £20 million is spent on crime prevention. I hope that the House will appreciate the comprehensive extent of the Government's contribution to crime prevention and their fight against crime. The Government are determined to crack down on crime and criminals, but we are equally determined to do all that we can to prevent crime in the first place. The Opposition motion failed to acknowledge the large amount of work that is being done, with full Government support, throughout the country.
§ Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)
I am delighted to speak in a debate about crime and crime prevention. It is interesting to notice the way in which the words of my hon. Friend the Member Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) caught the mood of the country in the past year. When he called for the Government to be tough on crime and on the causes of crime, he went to the heart of the subject that we are debating. I only wish that the Government would catch up and start to take responsibility for their mistakes and failures.
§ Mr. Michael
Will the hon. Gentleman be patient for a moment and allow me to reach the first comma in my first sentence before I give way?
I only wish that the Government would start to take responsibility for their failure to tackle and prevent crime during the past 14 years.
§ Mr. Nicholls
If the hon. Member for Sedgefield has caught the mood of the country, why has not he caught the mood of his own parliamentary party? While the hon. Gentleman is savouring what I might be alluding to, would he care to look behind him?
§ Mr. Michael
The hon. Gentleman should be well aware of the interest that my hon. Friend has taken. He is responding to many aspects of the Sheehy report. Today's debate is a minor debate initiated by a minority party. My hon. Friends have been working in their communities, with their local police, with the people who are affected by crime and with their local authorities. I only wish that the same could be said of Conservative Members, because we have been confronting the problem of crime while the Minister has only offered us what the Home Secretary does: rhetoric.
To hear the Minister's complacency today, one would think that a party other than the Conservative party had been running the country for the past 14 years. If the Minister has been so successful, why do the, facts demonstrate 14 years of failure? He talks about protecting the public; it is at the top of his agenda. It is far too low on his list of priorities.
I was especially surprised that the Minister was so dismissive of the problem of violent crime. He said that violent crime had stayed at only 5 per cent. of total crime. As it was 5 per cent. of a bigger bulk of crime, violent crime increased by 126 per cent. since 1979, when the Conservatives came to office. The Minister should not dismiss that so lightly.
The bulk of crimes that are recorded by the police in England and Wales has increased by more than 121 per 1013 cent. since 1979. That is bad enough. Burglary of homes has increased by more than 180 per cent. Theft from vehicles has increased by 243 per cent.
Only one crime in 50 now leads to a punishment in court. Is the Minister proud of that record?
§ Mr. Stephen
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the main cause of crime today is the breakdown of people's respect for each other, which took root in the 1960s, and that our failure to combat crime has been a result of our failure to resist libertarian attitudes towards crime? Does he agree that if either of the two socialist parties had been in power for the past 14 years, the resistance to those attitudes would have been even weaker?
§ Mr. Michael
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the words of the Home Secretary before last, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), he would have heard him confess:We have created a me society.Yes; it is selfishness, but under the Conservative Government that selfishness has not only flourished but been encouraged. If the Home Secretary before last could confess that, I wish that the hon. Gentleman and the Minister would be equally generous. I wish that they would consider the terrible consequences of their mismanagement of the country and consider what is happening in the criminal justice system.
The Minister said that one of the most important crime prevention measures was the capture and punishment of the offender. The number of cases that came to the magistrates court decreased from 1.57 million in 1988–89 to 1.53 million last year, despite a 50 per cent. increase in crime; is that a sign of success? The number of cases that are withdrawn or dismissed at magistrates courts has increased by 50 per cent. since 1987; is that a cause for celebration? The number of cases that come to trial at the Crown court has decreased by 8,000 since 1986, in a period of rising crime. The number of cases that were discontinued by the Crown Prosecution Service before they came to court has increased by 78 per cent. since 1987–88. Those are the facts—on the very ground that the Minister chooses—which show that the Government have failed to tackle crime.
Despite the promise that some of us wrung out of the Home Secretary in February 1991, of secure places to end the scandal of youngsters being held in adult, prison accommodation, not one additional secure place for juvenile offenders has been provided during that time. Not only that, the statistics from the National Bed Bureau in Leeds, which co-ordinates requests from local authorities for secure places to house young offenders, show that during the past year more than 400 requests for such places had to be turned down. That does not count the requests which were not made because people knew what the answer would be. That is the extent of the Government's failure on the grounds that the Minister chooses to count as important.
The Labour party's approach is to be tough on crime and tough on its causes. When people persist in crime, they must be punished. Projects based on partnership, where the police, local authorities and the public work together to fight crime, have been shown to work. I see that the Minister agrees with me about that.
From the Government, we need the leadership to put practical measures into effect throughout the country. Labour has offered that leadership, yet the Home Secretary 1014 failed to implement the Home Office's report on crime prevention—the Morgan report—which offered a blueprint for putting partnership into operation nationwide.
The Minister may come to the House and talk of partnership, but the Home Secretary and the Government have consistently thrown sensible plans into the waste paper basket.
§ Mr. Nigel Evans
On the issue of the punishment fitting the crime, what is the hon. Gentleman's view of young offenders being taken abroad to France or Portugal, using charge payers' money, and re-offending when they come back into the community?
§ Mr. Michael
Programmes for young offenders should be tough, should confront their behaviour and should construct the opportunity for youngsters to come back into the community less likely to re-offend because they have been offered an element of constructive hope and discipline during their time in either secure or local authority accommodation.
Before the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) asked such a facile question he should have found out more about the details of schemes supported by the Government and the Home Office. The Labour party has made constructive proposals, which have been voted down by the Government—[Interruption.] Conservative Members should listen if they are interested in such issues—I believe that they are not. They voted down our proposals to cut offending while on bail, through bail enforcement and support schemes. They voted down the expansion of witness and victim support schemes. They voted down making the Crown Prosecution Service consult victims before dropping or reducing charges. They voted down faster action when youngsters start to get into trouble—with the cautioning plus schemes among others. They voted down speeding up the criminal justice system, to get quicker court decisions on persistent young offenders. And they voted down placing a statutory responsibility on local authorities to work with the police and local communities to fight crime. That is the Government's record—failure on the grounds that the Minister selected, and voting down the Opposition's positive proposals.
Recently, the Home Secretary said that thousands of people live in fear of the burglar coming back and that too many people are imprisoned in their own homes, afraid to go out in case they are attacked or burgled. That is the legacy of 14 years of Tory rule.—[Interruption.] I know that Conservative Members want to gossip among themselves because they do not take these issues seriously. There has been a 120 per cent. increase in recorded crime, but all that they can do is gossip and laugh during this debate.
§ Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton)
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that people are afraid to go out, especially in urban areas. In the city of Exeter, which is adjacent to my constituency, people are afraid to go into the shopping areas in the city centre. For seven years the crime prevention panel in Exeter has been trying to persuade Labour members of Exeter city council to agree to closed circuit television cameras, but in the interests of individual and civil liberties they have opposed them.
§ Mr. Michael
The hon. Lady should check her facts. She should also consider that Labour councillors often take the initiative, but that the finance is voted down by the 1015 Conservatives. I have found that out from my visits to Labour authorities throughout the country. The hon. Lady should be impressed by the initiatives that Labour councillors and Labour Members of Parliament have taken to tackle the problems of crime. If she is so interested in the subject, why did she join her colleagues in the Lobby to vote down the sensible proposals to which I referred?
The Minister also referred to racially motivated violence and domestic violence. It made a sorry scene when Conservative Members laughed and mocked the references that have been made to those serious problems. Parliament has a duty to send out the sort of clear message that my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield has provided.
§ Mr. Michael
If the hon. Gentleman will listen to at least a sentence he might understand some of my arguments. I realise that Conservative Members have been pushed into the Chamber to try to disrupt this debate. I am sure that that is a matter of regret to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who opened it. I understand their embarrassment—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Michael
Hon. Members will be aware that we have a limited amount of time for this debate. I am trying to offer a serious solution to the problem of racially motivated violence. Parliament has a duty to send out the sort of clear message that was provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield and Conservative Members should realise that. I ask the Minister to take back this message and to accept the plea for legislation to bear down on racially motivated attacks.
If the Minister is so proud of partnership measures, such as the safer cities programme, why did his Department send out a letter on 28 May to instruct co-ordinators of those projects not to provide information to a Member of Parliament who was trying to find out about their success and their future funding—open government, my foot! The Minister should be ashamed about that. Despite that instruction, we were able to study the progress of the safer cities programme, which confirmed something that the Labour party has been saying for years: if we put in a little extra money to enable a partnership to develop in inner cities, we will be able to reduce crime.
So the project proved a point that we have been making to the Minister and his predecessors for some years. What has happened, however? The Minister boasted that he has doubled the number of safer city programmes. He knows full well that the original 16 projects are running out of cash this financial year and that finance is not available locally to pick up the burden. He knows that the new projects will not have sufficient finances. They are talking about an amount that is only 30 per cent. of the money provided to the original projects, which will also have fewer staff and have not been given a time scale. That is not doubling the programme, but cutting it. It is a cut masquerading as an increase.
1016 Should the Minister or the Home Secretary have wished to do so, they had the opportunity to answer parliamentary questions this week to show their commitment to the development of the safer cities programmes. They failed.
§ Mr. Heald
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. If we are to have a partnership against crime, is it not time that the Labour party stopped making party political points and joined the Government in their fight against crime? Is it not time that they stopped voting against every measure that the Government introduce, supported us on the prevention of terrorism and said in strong words that the ringleaders of crime must be punished, and punished hard?
§ Mr. Michael
Earlier in this debate the hon. Gentleman was giggling and gossiping with his colleagues when I listed the measures that he, his hon. Friends and Ministers voted down. They voted down a series of measures such as those intended to be tough on bail bandits.
§ Mr. Michael
The hon. Gentleman is not serious. If he were he would have joined us in the Lobby on that occasion—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Heald
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That vote was before I came to the House. I was certainly not involved in it. However, I served on the Committee of the Criminal Justice Bill with the hon. Gentleman and heard the Labour party's namby-pamby posturing. It is time that Labour joined the Government and got tough on crime.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair and the hon. Gentleman should know that.
§ Mr. Michael
Not only is it not a point of order, but it is not true. The hon. Gentleman was a Member in June and July this year and I believe that he was in attendance. I am sure that he will correct me if I am wrong, but the voting record in Hansard shows that he voted down the measures that we proposed and showed his lack of commitment to tough action on bail bandits. The Labour party has done precisely what he asked—consistently put forward constructive proposals to deal with crime and the causes of crime week in and week out in this Chamber and outside, and Ministers have not accepted our advice or suggestions.
The Minister also suggested that drugs are a high priority. He should explain how the Government's irresponsible actions have helped the fight against drugs and drug-related crime. The Government have cut drugs education, voted down the use of money from drug trafficking to cut drug use, and cut cash and facilities for the rehabilitation of drug offenders.
Victims should be at the heart of the criminal justice system. Earlier this year we pointed out that money was needed if victim support schemes were to be developed around the country. The reply that I received from the Minister yesterday dealt a blow to any hope that he would act on his fine words by supporting victim support schemes. At this stage in the financial year just £200,000 would allow the expansion of those schemes to continue, but he has not come up with the money. Three vital services could be complete throughout England and Wales in two years if the Home Secretary came up with the extra £2.3 million for the next financial year. Those are: the 1017 basic service of victim support; upgrading services across the country so that they can deal with victims and those affected by serious crimes like rape and murder; and providing witness support schemes in each Crown court, because the system now only covers 50 per cent. of courts.
So many prosecutions fail because of the lack of witnesses or because witnesses are afraid to come forward and give evidence. Our criminal justice system must make it easier for witnesses to come forward and help to bring criminals to justice. That is not a soft option, but an essential part of being tough on crime.
In June the Home Secretary failed to respond to our plea. This week he gave the answer again: no change in the planning figure; no extra money. So the Minister must not just talk nicely about helping victims but must come up with the goods if he really believes what he says. I regret that we have had too many strong words and not enough action by the Minister and the Government to deal with those problems.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
What is my hon. Friend's response to the demands voiced in a number of English tabloids that anonymity should be removed from complainants in rape and sexual assault cases? Does he agree that, were the protection of anonymity removed from women in such cases, fewer women would be willing to report such dreadful crimes?
§ Mr. Michael
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. There are grave dangers that one case may lead to ill-thought-out changes in the law. The present law is correcting a problem that has existed for many years—the discouragement of many women from reporting rape cases. I hope that the Minister agrees that that approach should be maintained. It is another matter that illustrates the fact that we need to get the law right to encourage people to be confident that the criminal justice system will help them in their difficulties.
The criminal justice system deals with only 2 per cent. of offences. The whole of our society should be geared to preventing and reducing crime. The Government have not realised or accepted the extent to which they have encouraged the general problem in recent years. They have encouraged the failure of family life, selfishness and a great deal of lawlessness in our society. Ministers should face up to that.
May I summarise briefly our approach because I have taken many interventions, which inevitably takes time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield said, we are determined to be tough on crime and the causes of crime. Unlike the Conservative party, we are determined not to be trapped into the nonsensical polarisation in which it is suggested that one party believes in punishment and the other in prevention. We believe in both and that a balance must be struck, but we also believe that it makes no sense for society to fail to prevent youngsters and adults from reaching the point where they must be locked up. As the Minister acknowledges, although not in legislation, a great deal can be done, but only if the causes are understood. Those include the direct causes that may be rooted in family or damaging experiences for the individual and the indirect causes, such as the environment—the street or estate—which appear to reward delinquency.
In getting those things right the criminal justice system, in its wider sense, must give the right message to those who 1018 offend, especially youngsters when they first get involved in crime. If our own youngsters commit an offence or do something wrong we correct them and, if necessary, punish them. But we do it today, not tomorrow, next week, or in six or nine months' time, as so often happens within our criminal justice system. The quicker the intervention, the more logical it is, the more it relates directly to the event, and the less the need to rant, rave or punish. Moreover, it has a better effect on future behaviour.
That is why it is so important that, in those aspects of dealing with young people and those who start to be involved in offending, and in the health of our communities, which has an influence on crime, the Government should take more action and recognise the interrelationship between education and crime. For instance, 50 per cent. of truants but only 16 per cent. of non-truants offend. The fragmentation of the education system is the Government's responsibility and Ministers should face up to that.
I therefore call on the Minister, in responding to this debate, to recognise the Government's failings and the need for the criminal justice system, in its wider sense, in the courts and outside, to be fast, firm, fair and effective. The tough words are no use unless we have those positive actions. We need prevention as well as action after crime has been committed.
§ 6.6 pm
§ Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) said that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) had caught the mood of the nation. He certainly has not caught the mood of his side of the House because there is no one here. Normally, when such a remark is made, as it was by one of my hon. Friends, a Labour Member goes out of the Chamber and brings hon. Members in from the Tea Room. Clearly, that could not be done because hon. Members are not even in the Tea Room.
§ Mr. Michael
The hon. and learned Gentleman is well aware of the announcement that we heard today and the degree to which my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield must respond to it. I presume that that is why the hon. arid learned Gentleman was absent from the Chamber for a considerable part of the earlier debate.
§ Sir Ivan Lawrence
I was not absent for more than five minutes, but that is not the point. The hon. Member for Sedgefield has not even inspired his party with the mood of the need for law and order.
We have just heard a brave but impertinent speech from the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, bearing in mind his party's history on law and order.
This is the first time that I have ever seen the Liberal Democrats present in a law and order debate, except for the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). When they say that they are the party of law and order, it is interesting to note that they supported Labour against the Conservative Government in the Public Order Act 1986, when we sought to deal with street disorder; in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, when we sought to strengthen police powers on stop and search; and in the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993, when we tried to introduce tough measures to stop the abuse of illegal immigrants.
Goodness knows what they got up to in Tower Hamlets, but I am sure that their racial activity in that area did not 1019 calm law and order. The idea that the Liberal Democrat party is the party of law and order is as laughable as the suggestion by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth that the hon. Member for Sedgefield captured the mood of the nation. The mood of the nation shows concern about the high level of crime, but there are misconceptions about the issue and the debate is an opportunity to explain some of them.
The level of crime is high in this country, but it is probably higher in most other countries in Europe and the civilised west. Britain is still one of the safest nations in which to walk the streets. Per head of population, we have half the number of murders in France. People are half as likely to be violently or sexually assaulted in this country as they are in Norway or Australia.
Recently, a delegation from the Home Affairs Select Committee went to the United States—one of its distinguished members, the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), is present—for advice on how best to deal with our hardcore of 300 to 400 persistent juvenile offenders. The Americans asked, "In which town or city are the 300 or 400 to be found?" The delegation replied that the figure referred to persistent juvenile offenders in the whole country. "You must be joking," the Americans replied, "we have that number in every town and city in the United States."
I do not for one moment suggest that we should not be working with all our might to reduce the high level of crime in this country. However, we should bear in mind not only, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, that only 5 per cent. of all our crime is violent but that the incidence of crime here is not as high as in other countries. We should also consider the fact that everybody now has telephones; there are 30,000 more policemen on the beat; there are 115,000 neighbourhood watch schemes, in which people look out for criminal offences; one cannot make an insurance claim unless the crime is first reported to the police. In addition, women now find it more acceptable to complain about sexual harassment and assault to the police, who are friendlier—as are the courts, and the judicial and criminal justice system. Those factors mean that a significant part of the apparent increase in crime is due to increased reporting.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)
The hon. and learned Gentleman is experienced in the subject and has introduced an interesting note into the debate. Did he contemplate making a speech on similar terms to the Conservative party conference?
§ Sir Ivan Lawrence
The speeches that were made at the Conservative party conference were much better than anything that I could make and attracted the massive support of the British people. If the Liberal party's debates on prostitution had received the same support from the public as those at the Conservative party conference, the Liberals would be overjoyed.
I do not want to waste time on the absurd suggestion that the Government have been doing nothing about lawlessness as I know other hon. Members wish to speak. My hon. Friend the Minister set out a long list, not only of actions that have been taken by the Government, but of the achievements that have resulted. I shall give two examples of those achievements. There was a time when there was a 1020 massive incidence of crime on London transport. When one used the underground, one could not be sure that one would not be mugged. We debated the subject in the Chamber. That crime has practically been stopped as a result of Conservative Government measures.
There was a time when we always complained about telephone kiosks being vandalised and the fact that we could never make a telephone call because telephone boxes were always full up, filthy or unusable. Now we can happily make telephone calls from public kiosks, which brings a great deal of credit not only to the Government but to the industries that have proliferated under a Conservative regime. There have been decisive improvements, apart from the statistical improvements listed by my hon. Friend the Minister.
Other hon. Members have mentioned my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary's 27 excellent pledges for action to tighten further the various existing measures to get to grips with the high crime rate. In the dying moments of my speech, I should like to draw attention to issues that will still require action. My right hon. and learned Friend must consider the necessary action in more depth.
Identity cards would undoubtedly help to reduce crime. That instrument has been staring us in the face for years and we have ignored it. Now that it is possible to see the great savings that could be made through the reduction of social security fraud and people realise that nearly everybody already has some sort of identity card, it might be possible to persuade the public to accept identity cards. That would substantially reduce not only social security fraud but all types of crime, particularly terrorism.
Two days ago, members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs were in Manchester. The Select Committee is conducting an inquiry into computer pornography. Appalling possibilities arise from our young children being confined to their rooms and watching computer video display units. They do not even have to have satellite television or video films, but can receive the most appalling and repulsive filth down the telephone line. I think that all members of the Select Committee, whatever their party, were appalled at the prospect. Something must be done about that problem. We must also do something about pornography generally, which is beginning to envelop our children. It is one thing for adults to have the freedom to get up to what they like in private; however, we are talking about children, young people, the next generation—the future of this country—who must be protected.
Television violence is linked to the problem. We keep saying that something must be done about it, but actually do nothing. The Select Committee on Home Affairs went to the United States earlier this year during its inquiry into domestic violence. One of our interlocutors said that, in her assessment, the American child attending school for the first time had already seen more than 2,000 murders on his television at home. Such viewing brainwashes a child to accept the most repulsive violence.
It is not enough to ask television companies not to broadcast violence until after 9 pm or even 10 pm. In today's society children stay up late and, if they know that there is to be a programme that they want to see, they will stay up late to watch it—heaven help the parent who tries to stop that happening. Postive action must be taken. If we have to legislate against the television companies to stop 1021 them showing such violence when children can watch television, the Government must seriously consider that alternative.
§ Mr. Stephen
Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that when I complained to the Broadcasting Standards Council on behalf of my constituents about a particularly vile programme that had been broadcast on the public television network, I was told that the content was justified by its context? I responded by saying that if the network made programmes about foulmouthed people, the content would always be justified by the context. Is my hon. and learned Friend satisfied with the job being done by the Broadcasting Standards Council?
§ Sir Ivan Lawrence
No, I am not. We must look at the problem and take action. I see that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that it is a serious issue which must be addressed.
On the issue of drugs, in Manchester the Select Committee on Home Affairs looked at racial attacks—a serious and worrying problem. We must take action to stop it. It was interesting that we were told by the Manchester police that there were 300,000 criminal incidents last year, of which 400 involved racial attacks and half—150,000 —were drug related. We are about to be overwhelmed—if we have not already been—by the problem of drugs; it has to be dealt with, and not by distinguished members of the judiciary suggesting legalising or licensing drugs, either. If we legalise cannabis, we will just whet the appetites of children for more and more hard drugs, and create more crime.
§ Mrs. Browning
It has already been mentioned that the Liberal Democrat party's Scottish conference voted to legalise the possession of cannabis—[Interruption.] Hon. Members may laugh, but it was made clear to me only a few months ago by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) that any resolution passed by Liberal Democrat conferences is official policy, whereas what appears in consultation documents is not.
Is it not true that the young people who purchase cannabis in the street buy it from the very people who will also supply them with crack, cocaine and all the other hard drugs?
§ Sir Ivan Lawrence
I agree. I must remind the House that the police have been active in this matter, as have Customs and Excise officials. The number of seizures rose from 200 in 1987 to 1,005 last year, and it continues to rise. We must direct more of our law enforcement agencies to the detection and prevention of drug trafficking. The courts must impose more savage sentences, too.
§ Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)
I fully agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman about the courts. In my constituency, seven men were arrested for drug dealing, yet the courts let them off scot free. Thousands of man hours had been spent trying to catch those folk, and we managed to catch them —but the court sent them out again, and now they are back dealing in drugs.
§ Sir Ivan Lawrence
If we can achieve all-party support for strengthening the deterrents, this debate will have achieved a great deal.
Removing the right to silence will not in itself prevent a great deal more crime, but it will reassure everyone that 1022 the criminal justice system is working. It will also reassure the police who will know, when they arrest criminals, that there is a reasonable chance of conviction in a court of law. They will know that it is worth doing what our police forces ought to do to bring people to justice. That will help to restore their morale.
I deplore the intemperate, over-the-top statement made today by the president of the Law Society. He seems to be quite unaware of the fact that the overwhelming majority of judges are in favour of allowing the prosecution and the judges to comment on a failure to give an explanation when an explanation would be reasonably called for. The vast majority of the British people think likewise.
It is a pity when some of our leading judicial personages make remarks that sound like they are saying that prison does not work or deter, so let us not bother about prisons. No one who has anything to do with the criminal justice system can believe for a moment that prison is not a deterrent to a large number of people. The longer a sentence, the more a deterrent it is likely to be, quite apart from the obvious fact that removing from society a burglar who would otherwise commit 13 burglaries in a year—that can be multiplied by 10,000—represents a great decrease in the amount of crime that will take place.
More attention must be paid not to well-meaning judges, however distinguished, but to the whole judiciary and the whole legal profession, not to mention police officers and all who are concerned from day to day with crime. They all believe that one of the most effective ways of preventing crime is deterrence. Everyone knows that I am in favour of the restoration of capital punishment; it would do more than anything else to prevent violent crime. I accept that such restoration is unlikely, but for goodness sake let us build up a system of deterrents—in line with what the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) wants for drug traffickers—so that the message will go out from this place that we expect our judges to impose heavy deterrent sentences on the worst offenders.
By no stretch of the imagination could it seriously be said that the Government are doing nothing about crime. The public will be reassured by my hon. Friend the Minister's speech today, and they will be in no doubt that this party intends to continue to be what it always has been, the party of law and order.
§ Mrs. Diana Maddock (Christchurch)
Politics is about people. It is not an exact science; unpredictable events take place and they can bring about great changes. One such event was the sad death at a relatively early age of my predecessor, Robert Adley. For Parliament, that has meant the loss of one of its more colourful Members, respected and admired on both sides of the House. For his wife and sons, it has meant the loss of a loved husband and father.
Robert Adley was a Back Bencher, but I believe that he was better known than many of our junior Ministers. Once he took up a cause, he gave it his all. He opposed the Government on the poll tax and on the privatisation of hits great love, the railways. When he died, he was the Chairman of the Transport Select Committee, and he worked tirelessly on a report that gained all-party support.
Robert Adley stood up for what he believed in. He was also a first-class constituency Member. He enjoyed overwhelming support ever since he was first elected as 1023 Member for Christchurch and Lymington in 1972. He continued to represent Christchurch after the 1982 boundary changes until his sad and untimely death.
Robert once said of himself:I don't take myself or life too seriously. I wouldn't mind appearing on 'Spitting Image' as long as I was portrayed wearing a train guard's hat and smoking my pipe.Recent events have led to a great deal of publicity for Christchurch, and many people will have gained the impression that my constituency is all coastal, with beautiful beaches, a magnificent harbour, an ancient priory church and a marvellous bowling green reminiscent of a previous age—not to mention a population all over 60.
Some of those impressions are true, which is probably why tourism is one of the main industries in my constituency and why so many people have chosen to move to the area. Behind that image, however, the reality is a little different. The constituency stretches north away from the coast to include the communities of Ferndown, West Moors and Verwood. There are the villages of Burton and Hurn; there is part of the beautiful Avon valley; and there is also Bournemouth international airport. Twelve per cent. of the constituency is Forestry Commission land. Local people use the area for recreation, and they want to keep access to those forests.
There are also many young people in the constituency. There are many people with young families, attracted to the area in the boom years. Many of them work in high-tech, high-skilled defence and aviation-related industries. But there are problems—including problems with schools, homes, jobs and travel. The children of Dorset are not getting a fair deal. Hampshire children just a few miles up the road receive on average £88 per pupil per year more in Government grant than do the children of Dorset. I hope that the Chancellor will redress that difference in next year's financial settlement for Dorset. The local citizens advice bureaux are dealing with more and more mortgage repossessions, and other families cannot move because of their negative equity. Meanwhile, our housing waiting lists are longer than ever.
Unemployment in my constituency has trebled in the past two years. The biggest commercial letting in Christchurch this year was to the Government, doubling the size of the jobcentre. Many of the jobs that we have lost are in the defence and defence-related industries.
There are many carers in my constituency, and many of them are elderly women who need support as they try to look after their elderly partners, many of whom have been dismissed from hospital far too early to make room for others. Here, too, I hope that we shall get a better settlement for Dorset from the Chancellor next year.
Rail services are now non-existent in the northern part of my constituency and buses are also rare. Recently, the train service to Christchurch was cut. Many of my constituents rely on such services to get to hospitals in Southampton, Poole and Portsmouth, and many more travel to schools and colleges by train.
Those are just some of the problems that I highlighted in my by-election campaign, and I intend to continue to highlight them and to fight for a fair deal for the people of Christchurch and east Dorset—the people who have given me support not only at my election but since that time whenever I have met them.
1024 I am fairly sure that the Government did not intend the timing of the by-election to be helpful to me, but in the almost three months before I signed the book in the House, I had a chance to meet many of my constituents. Therefore, I am in no doubt that the two main concerns in people's minds in Christchurch are the proposed imposition of VAT on domestic fuel and the fear of crime. There is absolutely no doubt that many elderly people and others on low incomes—often the people who most need heat—will be badly hit if the Government go ahead with their VAT plans. My constituents are angry, and they will be greatly disappointed if the Government fail to listen to the view that they expressed at the ballot box.
In addition, for more and more people, the real fear of crime is destroying their quality of life. There must be action to prevent crime, and people must be able to feel safe in their homes and on their streets. Business men and women must feel that they can earn a living without their premises being burgled almost weekly, for that is the reality for some in my constituency.
I am particularly pleased to have been given the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this Liberal Democrat-proposed debate on crime prevention. Much is being done in my constituency to cut crime through local crime prevention schemes. In Highcliffe, the local home beat officer has worked with local people to set up home watch schemes. He has worked with shopkeepers in the village to set up the Highcliffe traders shop watch scheme, which has been established to help local shop workers work together in an effort to deter the criminal element and prevent crimes such as shoplifting, fraud and theft.
A similar scheme has been instigated in Christchurch. I was in my constituency yesterday and I understand that good progress is being made on that. People in the north of my constituency in Verwood have also been active in crime prevention and have won awards. The East Dorset district crime prevention panel has been most effective in cutting car park crime. If such schemes are to continue to prosper, and if the police and the community are to come together, to get other schemes off the ground, they will need Government support and recognition. Above all, they will need the tools to do the job.
Last year in my county of Dorset, the chief constable was given no extra officers when he requested them from the Home Secretary. This year, he estimates that he will need 97 more officers to do the job properly, but so far all that he has had is the Sheehy report which he estimates would, in its original form, have cut his estimates by 48. I look forward to hearing in some detail from the Home Secretary exactly where the 3,000 extra officers that he spoke about will come from.
That has not been all, because the Home Secretary's White Paper proposes to remove many of the elected members on our police authorities—500 throughout Britain. How can our police be responsive to local needs when their hands are tied at every turn? I hope that the Home Secretary will listen to the police and will support them. I hope that he will listen to the thousands of my constituents who want more police on their streets to deter the criminals and make people feel safer. I trust that he will give the chief constable of Dorset the extra policemen we need and for which the chief constable has asked. I hope that the Home Secretary will support the local councils and community groups that are coming together with the police to put into effect practical measures that cut crime. I hope 1025 that the Home Secretary will put crime prevention as high on his agenda as we put it on ours, and as high as my constituents put it.
In the definition of the police constable's duty from Robert Peel's time to the present day, prevention has always come before detection. We can prevent crime if we all work together—the community, the police, local councils and central Government. The people of Christchurch and east Dorset elected me because I listened and spoke up about those concerns and real problems. I intend to go on doing that. I have brought their message here and I hope that the Government will listen and will act accordingly.
§ Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)
I welcome the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) to the House. She succeeds a doughty campaigner and a greatly respected parliamentarian. Robert Adley was Chairman of the Select Committee and had an encyclopedic knowledge of the railways. He made consistently marvellous and independent contributions to our debates. I commend the hon. Lady on her eloquence and look forward to her future contributions. I hope that she will continue her predecessor's proud tradition of independence which ensured that the people of Dorset, and Christchurch in particular, were well represented in the House.
I draw the House's attention to early-day motion 2448 which was tabled by the Liberal Democrats. It was received with some astonishment in my constituency, and especially by the police, because it states:That this House … notes in particular the reduction in the incidence of common crimes such as burglary and car theft of up to 80 per cent. at relatively little cost, such as those schemes operated by the Liberal Democrat-led authorities in Torbay, …and it goes on to mention other places.
I have come across several examples of political opportunism, but that early-day motion takes the cake. Quite apart from the fact that it is sheer nonsense because crime in my constituency has not been reduced by 80 per cent.—I wish that it had been—the idea that it was reduced as a result of a Liberal Democrat initiative is absolute hogwash. There has been a considerable reduction in vandalism on council property in Torbay, but that is no thanks to the Liberal Democrats.
On the contrary, the one initiative in my constituency to prevent crime was the introduction of closed-circuit television. That was suggested by me in 1991, and at an emergency meeting of the council in June 1992 it was proposed that closed-circuit television should be introduced in car parks and other public areas in my constituency.
I took that initiative because of an incident of crowd disorder outside a nightclub. Because a video camera was situated outside the entrance to the nightclub, the police were able to identify the person responsible for starting the fight and arrest him. Using the video tape, they managed to get a conviction. I was impressed by that. The emergency meeting of Torbay borough council was initiated by the Conservative group, and it introduced the widespread use of surveillance cameras. Remarkably, that measure was opposed by the Liberal Democrats. Not only was it opposed by the Liberal Democrats, but, because they had control of the council, they actually defeated the motion and they are now taking the credit for introducing it.
1026 I have come across a great deal of humbug in my time, but the proposition that 80 per cent. of common crime such as burglary and car theft has been eliminated caused derision in Paignton police station when I reported the text. It is certainly political opportunism.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman and I am delighted to know of his interest in crime prevention. Will he give Torbay borough council credit for introducing the vandal report phone line and the security controls which have had a striking effect in reducing vandalism, as has been recognised in the community?
§ Mr. Allason
First, let me remind the hon. Gentleman that I have had a long involvement in crime prevention, including spending seven years as a Metropolitan police special constable, so I have a long interest in the subject. Secondly, in relation to the initiative taken by the police in my constituency in conjunction with Torbay borough council, it is quite true that damage caused to council property has been reduced from expenditure of around £180,000 to £70,000 or £80,000 last year. I welcome that. I am very much in favour of the prevention of crime, but I am not in favour of the political opportunism which stands in the hon. Gentleman's name.
Let me draw the House's attention to the safe resort scheme of which that security initiative was part. We hope and intend to show visitors to and residents of resorts around the country that the English seaside resort is a place to which people can bring their children, which tourists can visit in safety and where local residents do not have to be afraid when they leave their homes.
In my discussions with magistrates, the police and the probation service, one particular problem has been consistently highlighted. The greatest cause for concern is youth crime and young offenders. In Devon, there are only about 22 or 24 persistent young offenders who cause a large proportion of the crime, but the problem is greater in my constituency because some owners of residential homes have been importing problem children.
One of the difficulties that I would like the Minister to address when he replies to the debate is the problem of young offenders, which is exacerbated by the fact that, provided that children's homes have fewer than four residents, they do not need to be registered with the local authority.
A great deal of crime is committed in my constituency by very young offenders who take advantage of the current legislation which prevents them from being restrained if they are under 15. That means that on some occasions a youngster who has stolen a car and been arrested in pursuit by the police has been taken to the police station, released into the custody of the children's home, and then, within the same shift, has been caught for a second time later that evening committing another crime on the streets.
It is not unusual for some young offenders under the age of 15 to be responsible for up to 200 burglaries. Near one establishment, a local resident has had his car broken into 20 times and has now given up reporting the break-ins to the police.
Under current legislation, it is impossible for the owner of the home to restrain the children as standing in front of a child or in any way physically restraining a child could lead to a charge of assault. I hope that, when the Government take the initiative and introduce the new 1027 secure high supervision accommodation that is so desperately needed to deal with young offenders, they will ensure that the new establishments are up and running by June.
Although the staff of the establishments are extremely dedicated and determined to solve the problems of the young people, they create a tremendous difficulty for local residents. I would like to manifest the anxiety that has been expressed by residents who live nearby.
All too often there has been a tendency to criticise local authorities and people who are responsible for young offenders. Let me give the House an example. I am aware of the case of a 10-year-old girl who was brought to my constituency for respite and emergency care in a children's home. The problem at the heart of her offences was that she was having problems with her pimp.
Another example involves a 14-year-old boy. I spent some time trying to sort out his problems. He has been shunted around the country by Avon social services who are only too pleased to get rid of him and park him on another authority. When I spoke to the youngster, I discovered that he had not seen a teacher or received any education for 10 months; he had been through half a dozen different children's homes and it was clear that Avon social services were not prepared to take responsibility for him. As a result of that, he was caught five times in one week driving up the motorway to Bristol in stolen cars.
Some of the youngsters have very severe problems. It is too glib and superficial to say that the fact that somebody is willing to take such a youngster sailing on the North sea for two or three weeks while he is on remand is an expensive solution that provides the youngster with a holiday. The residents who live next door to residential establishments are pleased that some young offenders are in the North sea and not in the locality.
There are no easy solutions, but the Government must establish facilities where young offenders can be supervised and those establishments must be running by June. There are few deterrents that work, but I believe that high supervision, high discipline and a high training regime will deter. It will also give youngsters who have had appalling lives and home backgrounds where nobody gives a damn about them some security and discipline.
In reality, the greatest deterrent is the certainty of being caught. That means involving the whole community. The fact that somebody driving off the M25 can see a woman being attacked and drive past and ignore her shows what is happening to our community. We need a greater willingness by all members of the community to get involved and to prevent crime instead of looking the other way.
Based on my own experience in the Metropolitan police special constabulary, let me say that it is a two-way street. The specials do a tremendous job; they also have a tremendous influence on the regulars. I welcome the Government's commitment to the special constabulary. It is not a cheap option, but the specials have a real contribution to make and in their local communities they can not only catch the criminals, but, more importantly, can prevent crime.
I am grateful for having had the opportunity to catch your eye this evening, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I hope that the Minister will take on board the central worry that, to 1028 reduce crime, we have to tackle the problem of youth offenders, and to do that we must lock them up. We also have to ensure that the people who are responsible for those youngsters have the power to restrain them, instead of being in the ludicrous position that they could find themselves on assault charges simply by standing in their way as they leave home to commit a crime.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
I will not intrude into the battle of Torbay, as to whether the Liberal Democrats or the Government are responsible for various welcome improvements. However, I will join the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) in paying a well justified tribute to the maiden speech by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock), which was felicitously drafted and delivered, and which paid a well-deserved and glowing tribute to her predecessor—a well-loved, well-respected hon. Member who is sorely missed. I only hope that the hon. Lady follows proudly and independently in the path that her predecessor trod and builds up the same reputation that he enjoyed.
Law and order and crime prevention are high on the agenda of our constituents, and Members of Parliament ignore that at their peril. Our constituents will not be impressed with the international comparisons drawn by the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence). They look at the situation in their own areas and see it worsening. I remind the hon. and learned Member that, in his own county of Staffordshire, since 1979 robberies have increased by 452 per cent., home burglaries by 356 per cent. and all offences by 164 per cent. Constituents will not be mollified or satisfied by comparisons or suggestions that matters are not as bad as they appear.
The reality for our constituents is that they are less secure in their person and in their homes. I do not pretend to claim that is due to any particular party or policy over the years. In 1979, the then respected Home Secretary claimed that the answer to crime, which would deliver the goods, was the short, sharp shock. Recently, the Home Affairs Select Committee received evidence from the Home Office showing in clear terms that the reconviction rate of offenders who went through that process, which was promised to deliver so much, was no different from that of offenders who underwent other forms of treatment. We should have a little humility and a greater willingness to consider the facts and learn wherever we can about good practice elsewhere.
Crime prevention can be viewed at various levels. Yesterday, the Lord Chief Justice said in another place that the greatest measure of crime prevention is detection and the greatest deterrent the prospect of detection. That should lead us to review police staffing, the tools available to the police, and the cries of chief constables throughout the country—as in Dorset—that they are not getting the officers that they seek.
Only yesterday, the chief constable of South Wales pointed out that there will have to be a reduction in the civilian force and the transfer from operational duties of uniformed officers to compensate. That police authority has a deficit of million, which suggests that the force is not being given the tools for the job. Later, I can show the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department a report 1029 in my local newspaper revealing that South Wales' high-tech police forensic department is housed in a garden shed because of lack of resources.
I accept that demands are infinite and that we can seek only to meet an ever-growing menace to our society. Another change worth making is to the architecture and lighting of housing estates, as well as making cars more burglar-proof.
Members of the Home Affairs Select Committee were shocked at revelations made on their recent visit to Manchester of the increasing relationship between drugs and crime levels. What can be done to deal with that on both the supply and demand side? I checked some of the statistics given by Greater Manchester police with those provided by my local police force in South Wales. Although there is clearly much less of a menace from heroin in South Wales, some of the facts are just as relevant.
Greater Manchester police produced a document charting the period from 1981–91 in relation to the use of heroin and the increase in crime, which purports to show how the average daily intake of heroin by addicts is necessarily linked to the inexorable rise in crime. All of us should examine those figures and learn the necessary lessons from them.
The average addict uses 1 g of heroin per day at a cost of £80. The figure for South Wales is slightly more at about £90. Greater Manchester police calculated the cost to the public of passing on stolen goods, which is one of the main ways that addicts obtain the cash to feed their addiction. The average annual cost of heroin per addict is £29.200. Given that few people can obtain that sum legitimately, much of that money must come from crime.
Stolen goods are often sold on for as little as one tenth their real value. Greater Manchester police modestly suggest a crime potential factor of three to one. Therefore, the amount necessary to feed the individual's addiction is £87,600 per annum. The police multiplied that figure by the number of addicts in the Manchester area.
I accept that those calculations are somewhat crude, but they still produce the alarming result that the heroin-based crime potential for Greater Manchester alone amounts to more than £126 million per year. If one applies the same calculation to the country's other major drugs areas, one gains some idea of the linkage between crime and drugs. A chart supplied by Greater Manchester police shows a much closer correlation over the past decade between the rise in heroin addiction and that of crime.
§ Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport)
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to point to the dreadful nature of drug trafficking but does he agree that, contrary to his earlier remarks, the important factor is not detection but deterrence—action to deter drug trafficking or any other crime? Deterrence is far more important in preventing drug trafficking than detection.
§ Mr. Anderson
An attempt must be made to deal with the problem across the board. It must be dealt with on the supply side, through international co-operation on the part of all the relevant agencies; it must also be dealt with on the demand side, through proper education. Young people at school must be informed, and the police must be trained to handle the problem. Under the caution referral scheme operating in our own South Wales force, for instance, when 1030 a young person holding a small amount of drugs for personal use is caught for the first time, he is normally referred to a relevant agency.
The Minister described a panoply of crime prevention measures introduced by the Government. Distressingly, when trying to demonstrate the amount that had been spent, he failed to take account of the substantial cut in the sum that local authorities can devote to youth work and to other projects that can have a huge impact on the fight against drugs.
I am president of a youth group in Wales. We have recently been hit by cuts in county expenditure, and that pattern is replicated in many other youth clubs and the like. This, too, is a crime prevention measure. I hope that the Government will not compartmentalise crime prevention, but will look at it in the round. I hope that they will think in terms of information in schools, educating and assisting the police and considering the problem of drunk driving —and, indeed, driving under the influence of drugs: it is possible for drugs to remain in the blood for up to a month.
The Government should accept that the problem is a major scourge of our community, which is corrupting our youth and is clearly behind much organised and individual crime. Unless and until we recognise and deal with the close correlation between drugs and crime, we shall not hit the right target.
§ Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton)
I shall be brief, because I have been fortunate enough to make two interventions this afternoon.
My right hon. Friend the Minister referred to the strength of the partnership approach. As one who represents a rural constituency in Devon, I feel that, although crime problems in rural areas may be more dissipated, they are nevertheless important. Attention is; focused very much on set-piece schemes for the prevention of crime in urban areas, but nowadays rural areas—Devon in particular—are visited by people on one-day sorties from the cities, who travel down the motorways to commit crimes, especially crimes against property. The partnership approach initiated by my hon. Friend has been welcomed by all those involved, particularly crime prevention panels.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) implied that the absence of Labour Members was due to the fact that they were all busy fighting crime in their constituencies. He demanded to know what Conservative Members had been doing on that front. I can inform him —I am sorry that he is not present to hear my reply—that my constituency contains a special school for boys with problems similar to those identified by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason): children with severe emotional disturbances, who cannot be educated in normal schools.
My constituency had a serious crime problem. When all the interested parties joined forces—the schools, the police, local authorities, the probation service, the victim support schemes and myself—we managed to solve many of the problems that those difficult children caused. There has been a remarkable drop in the number of juvenile offences dealt with by the local magistrates court. It is not just a question of talking about certain measures; when the will exists to implement them they work very well, as we have seen in Devon.
1031 I have been particularly pleased to be associated with the Exeter crime prevention panel, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) is a member, and to see such schemes put into practice in the rural areas and the surrounding towns and cities.
Much has been said about drug-related crime. I have already put on record my concern that the Liberal Democrats should take such a relaxed view of the legalisation of cannabis. I use the word "relaxed" deliberately: I understand that, when asked to support the Scottish Liberal Democrat conference decision, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said that—although he did not support the move personally—he was "relaxed" about the idea. Let me make it clear that there is nothing relaxed about anyone who has ever come into contact with the victims of drug-related crime—or, for that matter, the young people to whom this wicked material is peddled by those who seek to make money and take advantage of it.
Crime is often glamourised. I wish my hon. Friend to pay particular attention—this, too, involves the Liberal Democrats—to those on the periphery of crime who benefit financially from it. Let me highlight the recently reported case of Miss Smith and Miss Cahill, who were released from a Thai gaol on compassionate grounds, having admitted their involvement in international drug running. On their return, it just so happened—supposedly—that they attempted to sell their story to the tabloid newspapers.
§ Mrs. Browning
My hon. Friend is right. A judge put a stop to that, but the girls' solicitor nevertheless sought to sell the film rights to Hollywood. Such glamourisation of crime is entirely abhorrent to those who appreciate its seriousness.
In the film, the two young ladies were portrayed as victims. I submit that the victims of international drug running are those who end up buying such materials on the street. I note with regret that Mr. Jakobi, the solicitor who acted for the two young ladies and sought to glamourise them, had stood as an official candidate for the Liberal Democrats on no fewer than seven occasions. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
The hon. Lady is clearly being dictated to by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman).
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
Order. Has the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) given way?
§ 7.6 pm
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)
The House will wish me to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) for her generous tribute to the late Robert Adley. He would have especially approved of her references to local public transport services, particularly the railways. In calling for more police, my hon. Friend drew us back to the substance of the motion. Her maiden speech demonstrated that she will be an 1032 articulate, competent and formidable Member of Parliament, and I know that we all wish to welcome her today.
I thank the Minister for indicating his willingness to keep his winding-up speech short to allow extra time for our own spokesman. He said that he felt that much of what the Opposition had said about law and order had been very negative. In his speech at Bournemouth—on virtually the same day as the Home Secretary's speech—my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) welcomed the burden of the Home Secretary's remarks. To follow up today's debate, we have already arranged a meeting with the right hon. and learned Gentleman at the Home Office in just 10 days' time. We shall then pursue a number of the points that we have raised, positively and constructively, in today's debate.
Towards the end of her speech, the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) made a number of comments about drugs. Let me make it clear to her that—despite the canard that has been thrown around throughout the debate, suggesting that my party in some way supports a drugs policy, and although a motion to which I am totally opposed was passed by a group of people at a conference in Scotland—party policy within the United Kingdom is by no means in favour of drugs. In the past month, I personally published an article in our party newspaper setting out my opposition to the proposal. Let me also tell the hon. Lady —as a vice-chairman of the all-party drug abuse group —I do not take a relaxed view. I know from discussions with my right hon. Friend the leader of my party that he does not take a relaxed view about drugs. He said that he took a relaxed view about a motion on possession. Although I disagree with the thrust of that motion, let me make it clear that it does not commit the Liberal Democrats to support the availability of drugs. Anybody who misrepresents it in that way does a disservice to the cause of truth.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
In the extraordinary event that the leader of the Conservative party should say that he was relaxed about the legalisation of drugs, and then sought to avoid criticism by saying that that was said about a slightly different point, and anyway it occurred north of the border, is the hon. Gentleman saying that he would not raise the matter on the Floor of the House?
§ Mr. Alton
Considering some of the comments the Prime Minister has recently made about his own colleagues, I know that the word "relaxed" is not one that would be attributed to him. Certainly I can understand that the leader of the Conservative party would be extremely angry if his party were to support the proposition that drugs should be made widely available.
That is precisely the view of my right hon. Friend. Once again, the hon. Gentleman has deliberately misrepresented the position. What my right hon. Friend said was that he was relaxed about a motion on possession, but was strongly opposed to it. Let me make it clear that the motion does not represent the policy of our party.
The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) dealt with the question of drugs, along with the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), and touched on the issues of computer pornography and 1033 television violence. Those are issues about which no one can be relaxed; they are at the heart of the cause of violence and the breakdown of law and order in the country today.
This timely debate has been held against a backdrop of some of the most violent events in living memory. The atrocities in Northern Ireland; the shooting dead of a community policeman in London; the subsequent murder, 24 hours later, of a man who was shot outside Shepherds Bush tube station, which was possibly related to drug offences; and the ramming of a woman's car on the M25 by armed highwaymen, who subsequently robbed her—all of those events graphically illustrate the violence of our times.
In Liverpool, preparations are in hand for the trial of those accused of murdering two-year-old James Bulger. The horror of that little boy's death caused us all to pause for a few moments to ask ourselves soul-searching questions about the health of our nation and the intensity of the culture of violence with which we now live.
Tragically, James Bulger's death was not unique. In every year since 1982, between 31 and 73 children under the age of five have been murdered. One in three people born in the 1950s has a criminal conviction by the age of 31 and one in 14 of those convictions is for a violent crime. In a letter dated 26 October, Mr. A. J. Butler, the director of personnel and services, in Her Majesty's prison service, said:Excluding those committed in default of payment of a fine some 49 per cent. of the total sentenced male and female prison population, for whom an offence was recorded, were serving sentences for violence against the person, robbery or for a sexual offence on 30 June 1993.The phenomenon of violence is not confined to any particular region of the country. Every day, regional or national newspapers reveal the same disturbing picture, with story after story about criminal or violent acts.
While the incidence of crime has been rising inexorably, the number of cases brought to court has fallen. In 1992, only 28 per cent. of all reported crimes were cleared up, with just 16 per cent. resulting in a charge or a caution. Even fewer cases were successfully prosecuted. That is a wholly unacceptable level of attrition in any criminal justice system. As my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) said, that raises disturbing questions about the value we receive for the money we spend on a criminal justice system that will cost £9 billion to administer this year.
In addition to the cost of adminstering the system, crime incurs other costs. The Home Office has estimated that propery worth £3 billion was stolen last year alone, and anyone who has had their homes burgled or ransacked, cars broken into or stolen, or been on the receiving end of violent crime, will know that as well as the financial calculations there are the unquantifiable emotional costs —the climate of fear and insecurity—and the fortress mentality that has led us to spend £1.6 billion a year on security measures to defend ourselves in our homes and businesses.
The political response is divided between knee-jerk reactions—which often reach a crescendo at well known seaside resorts during the party conference season—and hand-wringing defeatism that there is nothing we can do. Since 1979, Parliament has passed 64 measures to tackle crime, but during that time crime has doubled. The Minister paraded some of those measures before us today and claimed that we did not support all of them, and yet the 1034 Government are now bringing forward Bills to repeal many of the provisions of the laws that they have previously enacted.
Surely the experience of the past 14 years shows that feeble posturing and partisan rivalry must be replaced by a coherent strategy that will restore public confidence in our system of law and order. As we divide into a society of predators and victims, we must, as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said in her maiden speech, be prepared to listen to victims of crime, to people who live in fear of crime, to those responsible for young people, to those who fight crime and to those who deal with offenders.
Despite all-party attempts to establish a royal commission, along the lines suggested by the Chief Rabbi and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, to look at the causes of violence in society, and despite the fact that more than 100 Members of Parliament, most of them Conservative Members, signed the all-party motion in support of that, the Government, sadly, rejected it. The Government should think again and respond to the public mood. They should look more deeply at the causes, especially given the terrible atrocities that are happening in the country day after day.
§ Mr. Alton
No, I have given way to the hon. Gentleman once.
Every citizen has a responsibility in the fight against crime. We need a much richer language than the language of rights, a language which also emphasises responsibility and duty. Ours is a nation where far too often selfishness is rewarded and responsibility is evaded. Crime breeds on a breakdown of personal responsibility and it is nurtured by our culture of violence.
The hon. and learned Member for Burton quite rightly said that television brings images of violence into our living rooms. When murder and mugging is dressed up as entertainment, is it any wonder that people cannot distinguish between right and wrong? Earlier this year we were invited by the makers of the BBC's tale of everyday life in a hospital, "Casualty", to relish the prospect of thugs overrunning the hospital to destroy it by arson. Just a week ago, Channel 4 rejected the regulator's criticism of an episode of "Brookside", which was shown on a Saturday afternoon, well before the so-called watershed, which featured an attacker brandishing a kitchen knife as he attacked his victim. The former chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Council, Lord Rees Mogg, said:For the past 10 to 15 years film makers have been producing films which are ultra violent, exploiting violence of an extreme kind. The cumulative effect is antisocial.Too often, the Home Office and television programme makers have argued that those links cannot be proven and that the power of television is in some way underestimated. Details from the Independent Television Authority show that £1.7 billion was spent in the past year on television advertising by people trying to sell their wares through the power and pressure of television. If people think it is worth their while spending money in that way because of the influence of television, surely we should not underestimate the effect that it can have in our home. The public are not in any doubt. The TV Timespublished a survey in April that showed that 59 per cent. of those interviewed felt that there were undoubted links between television and real-life violence. Eighty-five per cent. said that the 1035 television companies are not careful enough in monitoring screen violence. In July, the new chairman of the BSC, Lady Elspeth Howe, confirmed that the number of complaints about violence from members of the public had trebled in the preceding 12 months.
Other disturbing aspects of the culture of violence include freer and easier access for young people to vicious video and computer material. I am especially glad that the hon. and learned Member for Burton said that the Home Affairs Select Committee is considering computer pornography and the submission made by Care about that issue. I hope that the Committee will take that subject seriously.
Added to the existing pornography that already portrays the violation, degradation and exploitation of women in such an unacceptable way, the increasing dependency on drugs of which we have heard so much in the debate, creates a climate of violence. Some neighbourhoods, as hon. Members who represent inner cities areas are all too aware, are awash with drugs, which are a powerful pressure for crime. People steal to pay the pusher and they steal from their own relatives and homes. As the hon. Member for Swansea, East said, drugs are one of the biggest reasons for increasing crime in many neighbourhoods and communities.
On Tuesday, Merseyside police seized a terrifying haul in an arms raid on a flat in Toxteth. Among the firearms seized were five semi-automatic machine guns and a revolver and a stash of ammunition was found. Some of the guns were fitted with silencers. Many attacks and robberies involve replica guns that are openly advertised and freely bought without a licence. A sub-postmaster or a cashier does not stop to ask if a gun is real or fake when it is pointed at them. Fake guns clearly need regulating. If it looks like a gun, it should be treated like one. Let us learn from the miserable experience of America where more than 1,000 murders, mostly involving guns, occurred in Los Angeles during the past year.
In Britain we need a common agenda to defeat lawlessness and to help us rediscover the intrinsic value of each person. The well-being of society should be judged more by the quality of human relationships than by material attainments; more by the richness of human lives than by the abundance of possessions. Our goal should be the realisation of human values and a strengthening of community life. We could pay for some of that by dedicating the £304 million paid in fines annually to the fight against crime. The money that is sequestrated from drug barons should be re-invested, especially to help the victims of drug abuse. Money should be used to establish crime prevention units in every locality and neighbourhood police stations should be re-opened. The removing of Dixon from the beat and the closure of Dock Green have been a calamity for many areas where people have lost the presence of local policemen who they knew so well. The money could be used to offer grants for burglar alarms and for security improvements for people who cannot afford to make their homes safe.
§ Mr. Alton
May I conclude because time is against me? One in three people have a conviction for a crime by the age of 31 and one in 14 for violent crime, so we must 1036 especially target the young. Forms of community service may rekindle the positive aspects of citizenship that disappeared with the abolition of national service. The media, which have a powerful influence on the young, must give the young more positive images which they can live up to. Simply building more prisons when a 25 per cent. increase in gaolings would cut crime by one per cent. only and playing party-political games while we spend over £9 billion a year to run our criminal justice system fails to address the fundamental problems of crime, is defeatist and a betrayal of the public's trust.
As with so many of the problems besetting our nation, the political will to deal with them is lacking in the House. That is why my right hon. and hon. Friends have felt the need to table the motion and I am happy to commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Charles Wardle
With the leave of the House, I should like to speak a second time.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) referred to the terrible murder in the past week of Police Constable Patrick Dunne in Clapham while on duty serving his community. I join him and, I am sure, all right hon. and hon. Members in paying tribute to PC Dunne and expressing condolences to his family.
I have undertaken to be brief and shall make three points. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) on her eloquent speech and the powerful points that she made on behalf of her constituents. I welcome her to the House, and I enjoyed her generous tribute to her predecessor, Robert Adley, my late hon. Friend. I wish her every enjoyment of the parliamentary routine while she retains her seat.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) referred to the Morgan report. The Government welcome the report's emphasis on the partnership approach, but do not accept the recommendation that local authorities need a statutory responsibility for crime prevention.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) referred in a typically powerful speech to identity cards. A scheme to introduce ID cards is kept under regular review. The key concern is whether a compulsory scheme would bring significant benefits to the police in tackling crime.
A number of my hon. Friends have spoken with realism about the many challenges we face in the fight against crime and have offered encouragement and support for my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals for police reform and improvements to the criminal justice system. Some Opposition Members have bungled the arithmetic of crime prevention expenditure and have been less than convincing in their attempts to claim credit for a variety of local and regional crime prevention initiatives, many of which have been prompted either by Government expenditure or as a result of determined efforts by Conservative members of local authorities. Opposition Members will have every opportunity in the forthcoming Session to demonstrate their new-found sense of responsibility in supporting new Government legislation.
Success in the fight against crime is being achieved by the police and the public working in partnership at local level. Many Government iniatives point the way. Neighbourhood watch, many other watch schemes, safer 1037 cities, parish constables, the national boards, coalitions against crime, Crime Concern and the crime prevention centre are all evidence of the Government's progress in a fight that calls for tough resolve and determination to protect the public, to safeguard victims and to hit criminals where it hurts. It is only the Government who display that resolve.
I urge the House to reject the motion and support the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
§ Question put,That the original words stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided:Ayes 29, Noes 143.1038
|Division No. 374]||[7.28 pm|
|Alton, David||Maclennan, Robert|
|Barnes, Harry||Maddock, Mrs Diana|
|Beith, Rt Hon A. J.||Mahon, Alice|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)|
|Connarty, Michael||Rendel, David|
|Cryer, Bob||Salmond, Alex|
|Davidson, Ian||Skinner, Dennis|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret||Spearing, Nigel|
|Flynn, Paul||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Tyler, Paul|
|Godman, Dr Norman A.||Welsh, Andrew|
|Johnston, Sir Russell||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)||Mr. Archy Kirkwood and|
|Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)||Mr. Simon Hughes.|
|Lynne, Ms Liz|
|Alexander, Richard||Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey|
|Amess, David||Colvin, Michael|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Congdon, David|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)||Conway, Derek|
|Ashby, David||Coombs, Simon (Swindon)|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)||Cope, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Cormack, Patrick|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)||Cran, James|
|Bates, Michael||Deva, Nirj Joseph|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Devlin, Tim|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Booth, Hartley||Dover, Den|
|Boswell, Tim||Duncan, Alan|
|Bowis, John||Dykes, Hugh|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Elletson, Harold|
|Bright, Graham||Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)||Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)|
|Browning, Mrs. Angela||Evans, Roger (Monmouth)|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Fabricant, Michael|
|Burt, Alistair||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Butcher, John||Forman, Nigel|
|Butterfill, John||Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)|
|Carlisle, John (Luton North)||Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Freeman, Rt Hon Roger|
|Carttiss, Michael||French, Douglas|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Gallie, Phil|
|Clapplson, James||Gardiner, Sir George|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Gorst, John||Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Hague, William||Richards, Rod|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Robathan, Andrew|
|Hannam, Sir John||Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)|
|Harris, David||Robinson, Mark (Somerton)|
|Hawksley, Warren||Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)|
|Hayes, Jerry||Ryder, Rt Hon Richard|
|Heald, Oliver||Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Hendry, Charles||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Hill, James (Southampton Test)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Horam, John||Sims, Roger|
|Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)||Speed, Sir Keith|
|Hunter, Andrew||Spencer, Sir Derek|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Spink, Dr Robert|
|Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)||Steen, Anthony|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Stephen, Michael|
|Key, Robert||Stern, Michael|
|Kilfedder, Sir James||Streeter, Gary|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Sweeney, Walter|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Sykes, John|
|Knapman, Roger||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)|
|Kynoch, George (Kincardine)||Taylor, John M. (Solihull)|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Lawrence, Sir Ivan||Thomason, Roy|
|Legg, Barry||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Lidington, David||Trend, Michael|
|Lightbown, David||Trotter, Neville|
|MacKay, Andrew||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Maginnis, Ken||Viggers, Peter|
|Malone, Gerald||Walker, Bill (N Tayside)|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Waller, Gary|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Whittingdale, John|
|Merchant, Piers||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Willetts, David|
|Neubert, Sir Michael||Wood, Timothy|
|Norris, Steve||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley||Mr. Sydney Chapman and|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Mr. James Arbuthnot.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.
§ MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House commends the Government's determination to tackle crime through a broad range of measures aimed at preventing crime through a broad range of measures aimed at preventing crime, punishing offenders and helping the victims of crime; recognises that government support of crime prevention takes many forms, including support of the police and support through the programmes of several government departments, believes that the key to preventing crime lies in partnership between the police, other agencies and the public; and applauds the work being done by this Government to promote and support partnership at both local and national levels.