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Crime Figures

Volume 177: debated on Monday 23 July 1990

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11 pm

I greatly regret that it has fallen to me to initiate this debate. You, Mr. Speaker, will recollect that the name that emerged from the original ballot was that of my former hon. Friend, the late Member for Bootle (Mr. Carr). We would have listened to him with the attention that we had all hoped his contributions to our debates would have commanded for many years to come. His tragic death has deprived us of that opportunity. As it happens, I had made an application for a debate on the same topic, and I am most grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for permitting the ballot to be taken again.

I invite the House to consider the crime statistics published by the Home Office at the end of June. In the first quarter of this year, the number of crimes recorded by the police was 1,081,000—the highest quarterly figure ever recorded. Theft had increased since the previous quarter by 16 per cent., burglary by 18 per cent., violence against the person by 4 per cent., robbery by 2 per cent.

The Home Office statistical department made the point —not surprisingly—that quarterly figures are subject to wide variations. Better, it said, to look at the annual figures. Let us do so. In the 12 months to the end of March 1990, 4 million crimes were recorded—an increase of 9 per cent. on the previous 12 months. Burglaries were up by 8 per cent., criminal damage by 8 per cent., thefts of motor vehicles by 16 per cent., thefts from motor vehicles by 7 per cent., violence against the person by 10 per cent., sexual offences by 8 per cent., and robberies by 5 per cent. In the past 10 years, crime levels have risen by 50 per cent.

These are truly appalling figures in terms of the suffering, the inconvenience and sometimes the downright misery of human beings which they represent. They tell a tragic story. The increase in crime is a cause of fear and anxiety, even among people who have not yet been its victims. A recent poll in the Observer showed that the single most important issue which concerns the public is the breakdown of law and order.

In the area I represent, which will be known to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, women and elderly people are afraid to go out of doors at night. The Minister may explain to them that statistically they are less at risk than certain other groups. Elderly people, he may say, are not very likely to be attacked on the streets or to find their houses burgled when they return to them, but while violence and burglary are manifestly on the increase, statistical explanations are no substitute for a beat policeman. They expect the Government to do something about it.

In 1979, the Conservative party paraded itself as the party of law and order. When the Labour Government were in power, the Conservatives did not hesitate to lay at their door responsibility for crime. In practice, they have presided over a massive increase in criminal offences. I suspect that later this year the Conservative party conference will be told that the Government propose to deal with crime by introducing further deterrent sentences. As the Minister of State knows, I am always willing to discuss penal policy and wish that we had more opportunities to discuss it in the House. But that is not my purpose in this debate.

The British people are not concerned to see more criminals serving longer sentences: they want fewer crimes to be committed. There is ample scope for a debate on the increase in opportunities for fraud and other economic crimes, but in the limited time that is available, I shall suggest just two steps that would make our streets and homes safer. The first is to make more police available to combat crime. Year by year, we hear of police authorities requesting authorisation for increases in strength and consistently receiving it for fewer officers than they asked for. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that pattern is constantly reiterated in the west midlands.

In 1988–89, the West Midlands police authority sought an increase of 350 officers; it was given 70. In 1989–90, it sought 350 and was given 62. In 1990–91, it again requested an increase of 350, and was given 63. Anyone looking at those figures might think that the police authorities were drawing up vacancies for officers who had no functions to perform and that the additional strength would sit about in police canteens. Those requests are made after careful calculation of the work to be done and the manning levels required to do it. Again and again, the Home Office ignore the police authorities and authorise additions substantially lower than the number requested.

When the Minister replies, he will no doubt be armed with a departmental brief on the numbers of police officers who have in fact been authorised. Those who are hungry for bread are grateful for a small proportion of a loaf, but I hope that the Minister, with his usual fairness, will set those instances against two other sets of figures.

My right hon. and learned Friend is damning the Minister's career.

My hon. Friend questions the Minister's sense of fairness. I do not wish to quarrel with the Minister: I am trying to persuade him because, in the past, he has been open to persuasion.

I hope that the Minister will set against the increases two sets of figures. The first is the reduction that most authorities have had to impose on police overtime. Increases in staffing are of little value if they are paid for by reductions in overtime. Secondly, they need to be set against the increase in the number of jobs that the police are now required to carry out, some of which are welcome. The increased requirements in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 are very much in the interests of justice. However, they make additional demands on police time. The work carried out by the police in neighbourhood community relations, in visiting schools and attending liaison committees is an important step in improving relations with the public. But such work cannot be done on the cheap; it requires additional police manpower.

We all support schemes in which the police and the public work together to combat crime. Neighbourhood watch schemes have helped to prevent even higher crime figures, but we are told by Crime Concern that the limiting factor on the expansion of those schemes is resources.

New circumstances and new perceptions have evoked the need for additional duties. Special units are rightly being established to cope with child abuse. Police are becoming more involved in support work with victims. But all those new activities take up the time of police officers. Some jobs have been created unnecessarily by the Government. They provoked an ambulance strike, during which the police had to carry out duties that did not fall within their normal work. [Interruption.] If my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), had wished to intervene, I should have given way.

Many police were deflected from their normal duties by problems in the prison service. The public want to see an increase in the number of police officers on the beat, on the streets where they can keep an eye on potential crime before it is committed. The public instinct is right about that. That would probably be the most important single factor in reducing crime.

The other way in which the Government could make a real difference is by activating and co-ordinating programmes of crime prevention among local authorities. They might include a programme to improve street lighting, to improve the design and layout of local estates, to provide security watch on shopping precincts and public recreation areas. That would transform our towns. They would be and would be perceived to be places where people could go out, even at night, with confidence.

Such matters are surely best left to the elected representatives. They know the areas. They are familiar with what is happening there. They know what people have to say about those matters day in, day out. But the Government's contribution is progressively to deprive local authorities of a greater proportion of their resources. Local authorities have lost £20 billion as a result of changes in rate support grant. Even a proportion of that could have transformed law and order. The Prime Minister's obsessive feud with local authorities is more important to her than safety on the streets.

My party proposes to make it an obligation to include crime prevention in local authority development plans and the criteria for planning decisions. A partnership between local councils, community groups and the police could create a wholly different environment. In my constituency, many elderly people still live in blocks of flats which do not have security doors to prevent all and sundry from using the hallway as a short cut. Windows and doors are still without burglar-proof locks. A little expenditure on those items would prove an important investment in reducing crime.

If to all that, we could add a youth programme which would provide for many of our young people an alternative to wandering around the streets with virtually nothing to do, we could break through the circle in which crime is taken for granted by both those who see themselves as potential victims and those who see crime as the way of life of their peer group. If young people could be persuaded that there are better ways of spending their time, the crime figures would look very different.

I am not crying for the moon. I do not believe that we can abolish crime. There will remain a nucleus of hard professional criminals. There will always be family quarrels. There will be those who are mentally disturbed in ways that lead them to commit offences. There is no single reason why people commit crimes. There is no single way of deterring them or preventing them. But there are some sensible ways which would add up to a safer and happier life for thousands of people. I believe that they would be willing to pay for it.

11.13 pm

I welcome this opportunity to discuss crime figures, and as a Member representing a Leicestershire constituency, I intend to draw on some of that county's experiences. First, perhaps I may tell my right hon. Friend the Minister how welcome is the increased manpower of 53 police posts for Leicestershire announced late last year.

Ninety per cent. of all the posts approved across the country are for operational duties, and the same applies to Leicestershire. It is a great credit to the county's police that they have successfully undertaken the civilianisation programme, which enabled my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister to view favourably the county's application.

Leicestershire police have faced considerable problems over the past few months. They include three major murder inquiries and a terrorist bomb explosion in Leicester. They have diverted police manpower from ordinary crimes—if one can call them that—and made their task more difficult. Despite those increased commitments, the number of arrests increased during the first quarter of 1990 compared with the same period last year. That is reflected in the increase of 971 detected crimes —a 21·6 per cent. increase over the first quarter of 1989.

In addition, a further 1,338 offences were admitted, and that is reflected in the improvement in the number of detected crimes after the offenders were sentenced. They numbered 335-or 30 per cent. more than during the same period last year.

Although detection rates increased, so was there a general rise in crime, which is extremely worrying. By comparison with the same quarter last year, the crime rate has risen by 34 per cent. However, if one compares that with the previous quarter of October to December 1989, the increase is only 10·4 per cent.

Rural areas, such as large parts of my own constituency of Bosworth, which covers the rural hinterland to the north of Hinckley, around Coalville, and Melton and in Rutland generally there has been an increase in crime of under 20 per cent. over the past 12 months. However, of all the problems that confront the police, perhaps the most difficult for them, and among the most disturbing for the public, is the tremendous increase in auto crime. The explosion in that type of offence has, I believe, distorted to a large extent the increased crime that the general statistics show.

One of the reasons for that trend is that the county has no secure accommodation for juveniles. There are frequently instances of youths who have committed auto crimes being arrested but then released because they cannot be held. I refer to two accidents in particular in the county—

Will the hon. Gentleman develop that theme a little further? Can he tell the House not only about the absence in Leicestershire of secure accommodation but how many bail hostels and bail schemes exist there? Is he telling the House that the answer to crime in his county is to lock up more children? Is that the hon. Gentleman's policy and that of his Government?

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) will be able to make his own speech, but I am grateful to him for that intervention.

What I am saying is what I am saying. The hon. Member will be able to make his own speech, but he has highlighted an important fact: why do we not have secure accommodation in Leicestershire? I assure him that I shall return to that point in a moment and I am most grateful to him for highlighting it.

Their have been two serious accidents in Leicestershire which resulted from joy-riding in cars. In April, near Melton, four people were killed in a terrible accident at Frisby—two youngsters in a hotted-up Ford and two adults in a Honda. One youth was due to appear in court but had been released. It is fair to say that very often youths who have committed 20 or 30 offences are still able to return home as they cannot be held in secure accommodation.

In the second accident at Charnwood, another youth was killed in what was obviously a serious accident. I draw those two examples to the attention of the House as an illustration of how serious accidents can occur involving youths who have committeed prior offences but are not secured.

In my constituency, we have a particular problem with joy riders who come out of the city of Leicester to villages such as Desford, Ratby, Groby and Anstey, take cars, drive them around, damage them and perhaps wreck them. It not surprisingly causes a tremendous amount of resentment in my constituency.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield referred to the reasons for the lack of secure accommodation. I am delighted to enlighten him. When the Conservatives held control of the county council, until 1981, there was an establishment called Polebrook house, at Botcheston, which had been specially fitted out as secure accommodation at considerable cost. When the Conservatives lost control of the county in 1981, the first act of the Labour and Liberal parties was to close that institution down, which not only deprived the county of Leicestershire of secure accommodation, but also broke a commitment to Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire which is quite disgraceful. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Knight) who is a Whip and by convention not able to speak, is expressing his concern for his constituents.

The Labour Party is directly responsible for the increase in crime in Leicestershire because, when we lost control of the county in 1981, Labour councillors made the fatal decision to do away with the secure accommodation for the county. That is quite disgraceful. I hope that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) will have something to say about it later when he is called to speak.

Some excellent initiatives have been taken to combat motor crime. One is the initiative taken by the police to persuade car manufacturers to make cars more secure. I understand that there is a specific problem with Ford cars —especially the XR2 and the Fiesta, which are seen as easy targets. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Leicester. East may laugh, but these are the facts.

The chief constable has invited representatives of the Ford Motor Company to the county to discuss ways to make those cars more secure. Hon. Members may be aware that Vauxhall have recently made their cars more difficult to break in to, and I think that hon. Members will agree that that is a most welcome development.

The chief constable suggested recently that sports accommodation should be made available free during school holidays. The suggestion has great merit. I hope that the county councillors will consider it carefully— [Interruption.]—not for this year, because it would take time to implement, but for future years. [Interruption.]

My hon. Friend will be aware of cries from Opposition Members, from a sedentary position, that the Government should give money. Is my hon. Friend aware that local authorities of all political colours —Avon, Staffordshire and Humberside—are doing exactly what my hon. Friend wishes his own local authority to do, that they are doing it successfully with local resources, and well done them?

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's intervention. It is a creative idea. If we can make better use of our resources, surely that is good for those who live in cities and who may not enjoy the recreational facilities that are available in rural areas. Young people are naturally effervescent and full of energy. They want exciting and interesting things to do. It would be far better to get them off the streets by encouraging them to play football and to make use of existing facilities. I very much commend the chief constable's idea. I am sure that it will be carefully considered.

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that local authorities should provide additional facilities from diminishing resources?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman must have misheard what both my right hon. Friend the Minister and I said. We are not arguing for additional resources—

It is a fatal flaw in Labour's philosophy to assume that all changes require increased expenditure. It highlights the difference between the two parties. We ask that existing resources should be opened up. Perhaps they could be used by volunteers. We do not suggest that a lot more money should necessarily be, made available. However, we think that resources should be better used. It is extraordinary if the right hon. and learned Gentleman is arguing against that.

Noise is a problem that has not been sufficiently addressed by my right hon. Friend and I ask him to consider it. The police are trying to stop very noisy parties, but they are faced with a major problem. I believe that the powers contained in the Public Order Act 1986 are inadequate. If there is a breach of the peace in Scotland, general powers are available to the police to enable them to apply sufficient pressure so that individuals on private premises desist from making noise. They can make arrests.

However, in England the police are frequently laughed at by those who hold noisy parties. That is a serious flaw in the law which my right hon. Friend must address.

There are inexcusable delays in bringing cases to trial in magistrates courts. In Leicestershire on occasions youths appear in court perhaps one month after the offence has been committed. It is impossible to hold them in secure accommodation because it is not available. In the intervening period, therefore, it is possible for them to commit a wide range of offences, particularly motoring offences. That issue, together with the others I have raised, must be addressed.

Leicestershire is grateful for the increase in its police manpower. I have demonstrated that the police, working hard, have increased the detection rate but that the increase in crime means that we face a problem. That is largely due to the increase in auto crimes which are committed by youths who cannot be held in secure accommodation while they are waiting for their case to be dealt with in court. The provision of secure accommodation was sabotaged in 1981 by the incoming administration for the county when it took over from the Conservatives. It is perfectly clear to me, and I am sure to my right hon. Friend the Minister, that a large part of the problem of crime in Leicestershire can be laid fairly and squarely at the door of the Opposition parties.

11.29 pm

I begin by joining in the tribute that the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) paid to my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Carr), in whose name the motion originally stood. I last saw my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle last Thursday. He spent some of his time as an hon. Member in the corridor where I work. I and other Members were shocked to hear of his death. I thank the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West for initiating the debate and for ensuring that it remained on the Floor. Those of us who wished to participate did so because we regard the issue of the record crime figures that we have received as being of major importance. I cannot think of another issue in my constituency, apart from the cuts in the national health service, that is of more concern to the people of Leicester, East.

I pay tribute to the chief constable of Leicestershire, Michael Hirst, to his deputy, Peter Blaker, and to the assistant chief constable, Malcolm Cairns, for the excellent work that they do on behalf of the people of Leicestershire. They work under tremendously difficult conditions and I shall explain why I disagree with what the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) said about police person power. I believe that they work with the prospect of Government policies, under the present Government, that have increased the amount of crime in Britain and Leicestershire. Those of us who live in the city of Leicester owe a debt of gratitude, not just to senior police officers, but to all the police officers working at the police stations, be they at Charles street, Syston or Uppingham road.

Those in the local community who say that morale in the police is low do not do so as a means of attacking or criticising the police, but because they are deeply concerned because morale is low and the crime figures are so high. They expect the Government and the Home Secretary to come forward with additional resources that will make their lives easier.

We live in a time of record lawlessness. It is extraordinary that a party which came to office 11 years ago as the party of law and order should be presiding over the worst crime figures that the country has ever known. According to the statistical bulletin of the Home Office, published on 28 June 1990, in the first quarter of 1990 the police recorded 1,081,000 offences—the highest crime figures ever recorded in Britain. All the panache, skill and polish of the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), at the Dispatch Box today cannot argue away those figures.

I am surprised that the Minister of State is in his place. After the Government reshuffle I expected that we would see a different Minister. I had heard that the Minister was regarded as such a rising star that he would now be in the Cabinet, but even with all his potential Cabinet skills he cannot argue away those disgraceful and appalling figures.

I remind the hon. Member for Bosworth that in the first quarter of 1989, 12,830 offences were notified and reported to the police in Leicestershire. In the first quarter of 1990, the figure was 17,111—an increase of 33 per cent. The number of thefts of motor vehicles have gone up by 61 per cent. The amount of theft from vehicles has gone up by 41 per cent., and criminal damage has increased by 40 per cent. We have never known such appalling figures. If one divides the number of crimes by the number of minutes in a hour to create a crime clock, one crime is committed every minute in Leicestershire. The debate has been going on for 34 minutes, and 34 crimes have been committed. That is an indictment of Government policy.

I know what the hon. Member for Bosworth said about extra police officers. I say to him, "Get off your knees." To say that the number of extra police officers has satisfied either the people of Leicestershire or its chief constable is to turn a blind eye to the truth and to fact. He knows that all-party delegations have been to see the Home Secretary. There has been a debate in the Chamber, in which hon. Members from both sides of the House took part, although I think that the hon. Member for Bosworth was not available on that date and did not take part in it.

The hon. Gentleman did take part, so he will recall that hon. Members argued for additional police officers. Yet he is prepared to accept half the number of police officers for which hon. Members pressed the Home Secretary. I am not prepared to accept that for my constituents. We accepted the demands for additional police officers made by the chairman of the police committee, Robert Angrave, who is a member of the Conservative party. The committee had to accept less, but I want the best for my constituents.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, especially as he did not attempt to intervene in my speech. I have been misrepresented by what he has just said. I welcomed the increase, but I did not say that it was an ideal number. Of course one would like more officers, but my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and my right hon. and learned Friend have made a welcome increase.

The record will show that the hon. Gentleman said that he was grateful to the Minister—that he was delighted with what he had received. He did not say that he wanted additional officers. He was prepared to accept second best for the people of Bosworth, but we are not prepared to do that.

The policing crisis in Leicestershire is demonstrated by the crime figures. Almost every day, my office in Leicester receives calls from people in Humberstone, Thurnby Lodge, Evington or Belgrave—important parts of my constituency—complaining about the lawlessness of the area, especially night crime.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West rightly said that the elderly, women and, indeed, young people are afraid to go out at night for fear of being attacked. The Minister of State may smile at those figures, but elderly people are afraid to go out. My mother, who is 64, despite the fact that she is a city councillor and might therefore be expected to be slightly more aggressive than the average citizen, is afraid to go out at night in Scraptoft lane for fear of being attacked. The same applies to many elderly people. Because of the Government's policies, they have become prisoners in their own homes —afraid to answer the door, to go out and see friends and to take part in the normal social intercourse that one would expect.

The police received a call from Goodwood. Mr. Syd Rimington, chairman of the local tenants association, rang up about the number of youths who had congregated outside 17 Gamel road, the tenants association headquarters, vandalising properties and upsetting local residents. The police, because they are stretched and do not have the necessary resources, were unable to respond to the calls that were made. I make no criticism of the way in which the police operate—they cannot deal with the problem because they do not have enough officers.

What is the Government's answer? I will tell the Minister of State something that he perhaps did not know. Two weeks ago, the Home Secretary escaped from London and ended up at Leicester university. He came to address the Crime Concern conference. I declare an interest as a member of the national board of that organisation and I, too, spoke at the conference. The Home Secretary arrived, puffing at his cigar and drank a glass of sherry. He told the assembled journalists what he regarded as the cause of crime.

According to the headlines in the Leicester Mercury, the right hon. and learned Gentleman told us that there was more to steal. He said that we had to put up with the increasing level of crime—[Interruption.] The Minister of State nods. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that we had to put up with the increasing level of crime because the Prime Minister had made us more prosperous, that because we live in a more prosperous society we have to accept that there will be more crime. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was therefore condemning us all to a life of poverty if we want to get away from the record figures that the Government have produced. That is what the Home Secretary told astonished journalists, who could not believe that someone of such seniority could make such statements.

I greeted the Home Secretary as I greet all Home Secretaries when they come to Leicester—with a warm handshake and a petition. The petition was signed by 250 members of the public and collected in just 30 minutes by people who wanted more police officers and wanted the Government to take action to limit crime.

I agree with the support that the hon. Member for Bosworth has given to the chief constable's scheme to cut youth crime by means of free sport and leisure initiatives. That is the correct approach. We need to ensure that the local authority's facilities are made available for young people so that they occupy their time in that way instead of vandalising cars and so on, but such schemes cannot be paid for without the Government's support. I am all for allowing young, middle-aged and old people to use the leisure facilities in my city, but the city council cannot afford to pay for that. I am sure that the council will go aong with the scheme and support the chief constable, provided that the Minister of State backs the proposal. The Minister said in an intervention that he supported it. I hope that he can say that he is prepared to have a word with the Chancellor, or with the Secretary of State for the Environment, about providing the resources needed to pay for the scheme.

The people of Leicester have to put up with a poll tax of £405 because the local authority has to ensure that the spending commitments that it has agreed and on which it was elected are paid for. Unless the hon. Member for Bosworth is suggesting that the poll tax should be even higher, I believe that the only way that the money can be obtained is through Government assistance.

New and modern police stations are needed in Leicester and Leicestershire. Last week, I had a meeting with Earl Ferrers to discuss the position of Hamilton police station in Leicester. A new township has been built in the eastern part of the city. It was proposed that the divisional headquarters of the Leicestershire police, eastern region, should be moved from Syston, where it is now based in unsuitable accommodation, to the new site of Hamilton. The local authority has made a three-acre site available and is ready and willing to allow the police to occupy it. Although Earl Ferrers gave permission a couple of years ago for the establishment of the police station, this year he announced that he could not put the bid for the new Hamilton police station into the allocation for 1992–93. When I saw him last week, he said that it was unlikely that the funds would be allocated for 1993–94 and that we would have to wait for 1995–96 for any prospect of the new police station.

If we are to ensure that the police are near the people, it is vital that the new police station at Hamilton should be built. If the Minister can tell me that there is a prospect of that happening, I make this appeal to him—will he support, in the interim, the opening of the Uppingharn road police station, which now services the eastern part of the city, on a full-time basis? The chief constable has said that it cannot be opened on such a basis, because the Hamilton station is to be built, but as we have been informed that it will not be built until at least 1995, may we have an assurance that the Minister will support our request to the chief constable for those additional hours for the Uppingham road station? If we are serious about decentralisation, we should remember that that is one way in which it can be achieved.

We must enter an era in which a partnership against crime will be allowed—a partnership between central Government, local government and the people. At present, local authorities are eager to enter into a dialogue with the people and the local police force to ensure that the crime figures are reduced—the missing factor is political commitment from the Government.

I hope that when the Minister of State replies—I am sure that, as in the past, he will cast aside his Home Office brief and approach the Dispatch Box without notes in his usual confident way—he can give us the good news that the Government will provide the money for the new police station and will give Leicestershire the extra resources that we need to defeat the evil of crime.

11.46 pm

First, I add my voice to the tributes paid to Mike Carr, the Member of Parliament for Bootle, who so sadly died last week. I, too, spoke to him on Thursday evening about this debate. He had decided to make home affairs his speciality, and was very concerned about the way in which crime affected his constituents. That is why he had chosen this subject for today's debate. One of the saddest aspects is that we all feel that here was a man with great potential and promise, never to be realised in the House. He would have made a fine mark and a great contribution, and it was with great sadness that we learned that his life had been cut short at such an early age. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

This debate is very important and very relevant. I intend to take the opportunity to do a forensic job on the Government's policy, or lack of it. Opposition Members take no joy or satisfaction from the enormous increase in crime rates. I say that with great sincerity. We learned with horror not only that crime had risen inexorably by 50 per cent. since 1979, but that in the first quarter of the year —the most recent quarter—it had risen by 15 per cent. across the board.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) pointed out, this is the first time that more than 1 million crimes have been recorded in one quarter. Even burglary—a problem with which the Government were boasting some success as recently as the previous quarter—is up by that astonishing amount.

Those appalling figures look even worse when we consider that they have risen during the reign of the so-called party of law and order. Most people now talk almost jokingly of how the Conservative party, of all parties, went to the polls in 1979 declaiming that it was the party of law and order. The British public have learnt a valuable lesson about such claims over the past 11 years.

The Opposition take crime figures more seriously than the Government do. The Minister is a geographer by profession. He therefore knows, and I am sure that he will acknowledge, that our electoral support is based more in the urban areas than in the country and the leafy suburbs. He knows that it is in the towns and cities that people are far more vulnerable to crime. Crime is serious wherever it is committed, but we take it even more seriously because so many of our constituents are at risk.

Hon. Members of all parties acknowledge the primary need of our society to be safe. We do not often talk about it, but safety is something that we all value. It is implicit in our complaints and grumbles. It is a demand by our citizens, whether explicitly or implicitly expressed, that they have a right to be safe. I believe that the House must conclude today that the Government have failed to deliver on that commitment to their citizens.

I have been following the hon. Gentleman's train of thought with interest. I am slightly surprised that he has not referred to the record increase in police manpower since the Conservative Administration took office. If I recall correctly, it was the last Labour Government who failed to implement the Edmund-Davies report, leading to the flight of police officers, and were thus directly responsible for the crisis in police manpower that we inherited when we took office.

The hon. Gentleman's intervention is even more confused than his original speech. The Edmund-Davies proposals, which gave the police a good deal, were initiated and introduced by the Labour Government. They were implemented in 1979 after the Conservative Government took office. The hon. Gentleman must get his facts right. The police are still grateful for the foundation that we gave police pay through the Edmund-Davies inquiry. I will go further and say that the recent reneging on that deal, for the first time in 11 years, has dispirited and undermined the morale of the police more than anything else and will be one of the factors leading to even greater despair in the police force in the coming weeks and months.

We must put more resources into our towns and cities where crime is more prevalent. The Government are in terrible difficulties in coming to terms with the reality of rising crime rates. They find themselves incapable of doing what any decent Government should do and finding a rational response. By "rational response", I mean one based on the facts. Crime has risen and is continuing to rise, and there is a crisis. The analysis of why crime is rising is important. It must be based on a pragmatic analysis of the facts rather than ideologically based answers. The mind set of the Government excludes so many of the underlying reasons for the increase in crime.

The Government discount the notion of a relationship between criminality and the prevailing values of society. The Prime Minister's policies and values have led to a get-rich-quick, materialistic, smash-and-grab society. The Government have presided over a society which emphasises the individual's right to grab anything going and says that mammon is the only thing to worship, but they will not accept that that has anything to do with rising crime rates.

The values of society have to be excluded from the Government's analysis. The Government will not believe that crime has anything to do with deprivation, unemployment, inner-city decay or the alienation of young people who have been stripped of benefit and denied homes and the opportunity to lead a full and creative life. The Government cannot believe that the rise in the crime figures can have anything to do with that, so those factors are excluded from their analysis even before it begins.

The dramatic difference that the Government cannot accept—[Interruption.] The Minister of State does not want to listen to this because he was once an academic and all the recent work in the United States and elsewhere by leading criminologists on the basis of evidence garnered over the years shows that pockets of great poverty in areas of affluence lead to rising crime rates. The Opposition believe that Governments can act creatively and effectively if the analysis of the causes of crime is honest from the very beginning.

The Government cannot act effectively because they cannot accept the real causes of crime. Under this Government, there is no attempt to consider the real causes of crime—instead, the Government fiddle as crime rises inexorably. The Opposition believe that if crime is to be reduced, there must be a consensus among our citizens as to the basis of law and order, the kind of that policing we have and what we believe justice to be. We believe that that consensus can be achieved only by democratic involvement in policing and crime prevention.

With rising crime, we would still expect an honest and sensible Government to face the terrible figures and do something positive. We would expect them to examine their policies to see where they had gone wrong and then devise solutions based on the facts. The Government's attitude is dangerous because they are partaking of what most people under stress would recognise as the old tradition of scapegoating. If we cannot find the answers because we are frightened to look at the facts because they are too ghastly, we find someone to blame. This Government are good at that. They are good at finding a whipping boy or a scapegoat.

Some of the scapegoats are pretty horrible. I wish this were a joke, but the Government seem to be embracing quaint genetic theories about the symptoms of criminal behaviour and its origins. I should like to know the Minister of State's views about all this. It would be laughable but for the fact that the theories were raised at a high-level meeting of the Centre for Policy Studies—the right-wing think tank created by Lord Joseph. At that recent high-powered meeting, far-right academics from the United States talked about the genetically inherited effects of criminality. The Government cannot disavow the Minister of State, an Under-Secretary of State or a right-wing Back Bencher, because the keynote speech on that occasion was made by the chairman of the Conservative party. That is where the danger lies when we consider the kind of explanations that the Government are contemplating to explain the rise in the crime rates.

Far more serious in terms of this debate is the increasing evidence that the Government are insidiously mounting a campaign to discredit the police and to blame the rise in crime on them. Once again, the Government's propaganda machine has been cranked up to scapegoat the police, undermine their morale and dishearten hard-working police men and women throughout the country.

The Minister of State shakes his head —he disavows that remark. I draw to his attention the front page of the 7 June edition of the Today newspaper. We all know which party the Today newspaper supports. We all know that the front page of the 7 June edition of that newspaper was headed "Police in the Dock", but that is not all that is on the front page. According to the article, crime has increased to a record 4 million. Burglaries and car theft are up 14 per cent. in some towns. Rape and violence are up 12 per cent. nationwide, despite 10,000 extra officers and £4 billion.

Who gets the blame? The police get the blame. The editor or the investigative journalist cannot get the blame. Any working politician recognises that it is a leak either from the Minister of State or from a senior Home Office official. Someone is up to some pretty dirty business in trying to put the boot into the British police. It is in the article. The Minister of State can ask the Police Federation from whom it thinks the newspaper got the information. The word is out that it came from a high level in the Home Office.

Was it him? Is the Minister responsible? There has been no disavowal of the remarks attributed to the very senior Home Office official. If it were a civil servant, there would be at least an internal inquiry.

No, I shall not give way.

If it were a civil servant, there would be a major inquiry. There has not been a major inquiry, so the comments must have been inspired by a Minister at the Home Office. If the Minister of State disavows that, he must say so today.

The hunt is on for a scapegoat. The hunt is on in the Government to blame the British police for the crime figures which are rising so fast. I ask the Minister of State—this is a serious point—whether he was responsible for those remarks on the front page of the Today newspaper or not. If it was a senior civil servant in the Department, will the Minister have an inquiry to find out who it was? That story must be one of the most disreputable pieces of leaking and provoking. The Minister must realise the damage done to police morale.

Opposition Members do not blame the police. We believe in putting the blame fairly and squarely where it deserves to be—at the Government's door. We believe that policies for a safer society must be based on involvement, consent, and an analysis of what is really happening in our country. Public and community involvement always ensures that there is a public and community response. It makes authorities more aware of local concerns and feelings about crime—something that the Government deride time and again. They do not like to talk about public accountability, even when chief constables say how important it is to them, and even when the chief of the inspectorate says how important it is to have accountability. Police forces cannot work without that partnership with elected authorities.

It is total nonsense and a fallacy to think that the police can tackle crime alone. No one believes that—it just cannot be done. The police can tackle crime only with the involvement of the community. Opposition Members have stated clearly that to do that we need local democracy to be involved. That means local councils—the people who are elected. The Minister of State will say, "But what about the the loony left councils?" He will find two or three Labour authorities—

Is the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight), to be allowed to shout at me? I will give way to him if he wishes to speak, but he wants only to shout.

I will give way to the Government Whip but not to the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick).

The Government cannot accept the fact that democratic involvement is basic to solving our crime problem. I hope that the Minister is careful in his remarks about local councils. Only last Friday, his boss the Home Secretary got his facts wrong as usual. He mentioned four councils, including Islington, which he said had not co-operated with the police, but Islington has always worked in partnership with the police on community matters, and since 1985 it has been at the forefront of such work. I have a letter confirming that. Islington council was upset that on such an important occasion as the debate on policing in London, the Home Secretary was so remiss as to get his facts wrong. I should happily give way to the Minister if he would care to comment on that.

I was employed by Islington council from 1985 to 1987 as a solicitor and I serviced one of the committees responsible for developing the partnership between the police, the local community and the council.

I appreciate that information from a colleague who knows Islington well.

It is important that the Government should learn that one does not tackle crime with the police alone—they need, and have asked for, community and democratic involvement. The police are seeking a partnership.

In the Labour party policy document, "A Safer Britain", we call on the Government to recognise, even at this late stage, that the leadership on crime prevention must come from the local authorities working with the police, local community groups, neighbourhood watch schemes and private enterprise. Together they can crack crime. The police alone cannot crack crime. Nor can they do so without adequate resources. Expenditure of £250,000 to make Birmingham a safer city will mean new doors being installed in five tower blocks.

We must take crime prevention as seriously as the French. Money must be put into resources for young people. The hon. Member for Bosworth was obsessed with young people taking away cars, and I accept that that is a serious problem, but many others must also be taken into account. Unless young people are given positive opportunities for creative leisure, they will continue to commit such crime. Our society must give young people something more than they have been given in the past 11 years. We must have a society based on creative opportunities to liberate all talents.

The Government must recognise that we need overall social and economic policies to tackle decay in our inner cities, to deal with homelessness, and to help destitute young people. I invite the hon. Member for Bosworth to come with me tonight to visit one of the greatest scandals in any city in Europe—cardboard city across the river. Hundreds of young people are sleeping rough in the modern Britain governed by the Prime Minister. The divide between rich and poor—poverty amid affluence—must be brought to an end. That problem, and the danger that it poses, has been created by Government policies.

If nothing else, the Government are consistent in their ideological pursuit. If we pursue the Government's policies on crime prevention we shall end up, as we have in health and education, with services and solutions for those who can afford them and nothing for those who cannot. The House may think that that is far-fetched, but something insidious is going on in the provision of law and order in Britain. Increasingly, a private security industry offers security to those who can afford it. One can have private security guards for one's business or in one's shopping centre. One can have private guards guarding one's residential estate. One can have good security fittings, locks and alarms—

Yes, and one can also have big dogs. As I have said in the House before, what we see down the road is the mark of the rottweiler society that the Government are encouraging. There seems to be a belief that law and order cannot be provided on a community basis—that security has to be provided on a private, individual basis. That is a dangerous road to travel. There are countries in the world where security and law and order can be bought at a price but where for the ordinary citizen, it is dangerous to walk abroad. I hope that before it is too late, the Government will turn back from that road, which will lead to the ruin of this country.

12.10 am

This has been a melancholy occasion for two reasons, the first of which is the sad loss last week of our colleague Mr. Carr; Conservative Members join the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and his hon. Friends in their messages of commiseration and sadness. We can only speculate on what our late colleague would have said had he been here tonight.

The occasion has also been melancholy because, with the single exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick), no hon. Member has attempted to analyse in detail any aspect of the crime figures. That has surprised me greatly. I am afraid that I found the speeches of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West and of the hon. Members for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) and for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) amazingly superficial. We have heard the sort of contributions that one might have expected in a knockabout during prime parliamentary time, but for heaven's sake, here we are, after 11 o'clock at night, with the opportunity of an hour and a half's debate. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, all of us seek to be here for an hour and a half at this time of the night, and we could have looked at the matter seriously, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth sought to do. Yet we have had nothing but the most lamentable party political hack performances from the Opposition.

I am surprised at the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West, whom I hold in great respect. He knows that when I say that, I mean it. I am not seeking to damage him in any way; indeed, he is to retire at the end of this Parliament so there is no useful damage that I can do to him. He gave us none of the profundities that we normally hear from him. He addressed just two matters. First, he referred to police numbers and asked for more police, as though that was the magic solution to our crime problems. There is not a chief constable in the land who would say, "Give me X police and I will cut the crime rate by Y."

Moreover, the right hon. and learned Gentleman simply ignored the Government's record of repeatedly increasing police man and woman power over the past 11 years. Characteristically, the right hon. and learned Gentleman made no mention of what a Labour Government might do in terms of increasing numbers—

I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me, but I shall have to go very quickly if I am to respond properly to the debate. He will probably have an opportunity for revenge. No doubt he will tie me up in knots again on some legal point during proceedings on some future criminal justice measure before he retires from this place. I do not look forward to that, although I am sure that he does.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he thought that we should co-operate much more closely with local authorities. Of course the Government want to co-operate with local authorities and with businesses, commerce and local communities in trying to deal with crime. That is why we recently circulated a Home Office document—which had been requested by local authorities— to replace the circular dating back to 1984. The document, which refers to strategies for dealing with local crime prevention, has been widely welcomed by local authorities. I was surprised to hear the views adduced by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West. It is untrue to say that this or any other Government would not want to co-operate with anyone who hoped to deal with the crime problem.

Lastly, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that there is no one reason why people commit crimes. I agree. I just wish that he would tell his right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who informs us one month that unemployment causes crime, and the next that affluence causes it. Let us compare and contrast the approach of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West and the much more superficial approach of the hon. Member for Huddersfield with the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth tried to direct the attention of the House to one narrow area of the crime statistics, which are, after all, the topic of this debate.

Opposition Members have instead tried a knockabout, party-political discussion of police manpower. My hon. Friend tried to analyse one of the serious causes—

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is the Minister suggesting that we were out of order this evening and that the Chair was not governing our proceedings properly?

Political knockabout is not a matter for the Chair; it is a matter for debate and argument.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield is clearly overtired and in need of a long summer holiday.

I am too, Madam Deputy Speaker—much more so than the hon. Gentleman, and I shall take an early summer holiday by leaving the Chamber shortly.

I shall continue complimenting my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth by pointing out that he dealt with one of the major causes of the inflated crime statistics: the fact that car crime is on the increase is linked to young people and joy-riding. That highly sophisticated line of argument was greeted with derision by Opposition Members—

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am not given to raising points of order, but can it be in order for the right hon. Gentleman to distort what Opposition Members said? We said exactly what the hon. Member for Bosworth said: that there should be resources to provide these facilities for young people.

This debate has become like the temperature outside—rather heated. Perhaps we should cool it and get on with it.

My hon. Friend's analysis of the problem of car crime deserved a respectful hearing from the House, not the frivolous attention paid to it by Opposition Members.

I join in the welcome given by my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth to the increased police numbers that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has provided for Leicestershire constabulary in recent years. I also welcome that force's increased detection rates, and I congratulate it on them.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) was at it again, paying me compliments. I do wish that he would stop that lamentable habit, which he continues in an attempt to have it noted by the Government Whip. I very much hope that the Whips will not record the hon. Gentleman's compliments to me.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East gave us an empty analysis, reminiscent of analyses by the Leader of the Opposition. In his blanket review of the crime figures, he made no attempt to recognise the considerable differences in the figures in various parts of the country. For example, in Merseyside, a part of which was represented by our late colleague, the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Carr), crime figures did not increase in the last quarter.

Any serious analysis of crime figures must be carried out properly and in depth. They should not be subjected to a superficial analysis of the kind carried out by the hon. Member for Leicester, East. He called for more police, hut gave no hint of a pledge that a future Labour Administration would make on police pay or numbers. I applaud his work for Crime Concern, which is an important all-party organisation. I shall certainly draw his remarks about police stations in Leicester to the attention of my noble Friend who is responsible for such matters. I am not familiar with those stations because such matters are not my ministerial responsibility.

The regular publication of crime figures is normally accompanied by extensive press and broadcast comment. If the figures are falling, as they were for a couple of years, coverage is not so prominent. When the figures go up, so does the coverage—much of which is sensational. Even in the heated atmosphere of the Chamber, to which you have drawn attention, Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish that there could be all-party agreement about the need for serious and responsible reporting of crime figures. Sensational reporting of the figures leads people to believe that they are living in a violent and dangerous country, and that has been confirmed by recent independent research published by the Broadcasting Standards Council.

We know that many people are unnecessarily concerned about crime, and victims have every reason to be concerned. We also know that many people are afraid of becoming victims of crime. That fear can alter the way in which they live, and that turns the fear into reality because, if people are over-fearful, it stunts their lives. That is why so many women are worried about travelling after dark.

As the House knows, we set up a working group of the Standing Conference on Crime Prevention to look into the importance of the fear of crime. The group was ably chaired by Michael Grade and it included some journalists, including the present editor of The Times. Their strictures on the written and broadcast media have not been taken seriously enough. It is right for crime figures to be given regularly so that they can be open to interpretation, or misinterpretation as is sometimes the case. It is entirely wrong to use them to make news or to sensationalise it, because that unnecessarily increases the fear of crime.

One of the recommendations of Mr. Grade's working party was that we should reduce the number of times that we publish crime statistics, which are published every three months, in order to stop fuelling people's fear of crime. I do not feel able to adopt that recommendation because, having started for better or worse to publish quarterly crime figures, we had better continue. I hope that no hon. Member doubts the excellence of the series of statistics produced over many years by the Home Office. I pay tribute to the department that produces them. In the past 11 years the figures have been altered only in two minor ways which had the net effect of inflating the crime figures rather than diminishing them.

Some home affairs journalists produce excellent coverage. Greater understanding of the figures would lead to a much more intelligent debate about crime in England and Wales. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and his colleagues looked at the figures and then sprayed the Chamber with figures of billions, hundreds of thousands and millions. That is meaningless. They should look at the true crime figures for England and Wales.

For example, violent and sexual crimes are relatively rare. Such offences account for about 6 per cent. of all recorded crime. Two thirds of that six out of every 100 crimes committed are less serious offences of wounding, and are often extremely minor offences. I am not seeking to diminish the importance of homicide. Happily, we catch 90 to 95 of each alleged murderers. I am not diminishing the awful effects of rape. We catch about seven or eight of every 10 rapists and increased and improved forensic techniques may mean that by the end of the century we shall catch nine or even 10 out 10 rapists.

However, it is important for us to set the awfulness of those crimes against the relatively low incidence of violent crime in Britain compared with that in many other western European countries. We heard nothing from the Opposition about the true picture of crime in Britain, so eager were they to fall over the statistics that we heard regurgitated to us in the Chamber.

A recent international survey showed that in 1988 the victimisation rate—the percentage of people who were victims of crime—for an assault with force was 0·6 per cent. in England and Wales, 2 per cent. in the Netherlands, 1·5 per cent. in Germany, 1·2 per cent. in France, 2·3 per cent. in the United States and 3 per cent. in Australia. Compared with most other European countries we have a lower rate of victimisation for assault, robberies and sexual assaults. The figures for the United States, Canada and Australia are significantly higher for most of the offences.

The most common offences in Britain are the most avoidable offences, including minor offences of thefts from and of cars, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth drew the attention of the House, and the eminently avoidable crime of domestic burglary. In about a quarter of cases, when a thief gets into a house he or she walks in through an unlocked door or climbs in through an unlocked window.

Thefts of property, whether in domestic burglary or of cars, are eminently avoidable. The most prevalent are thefts from cars and thefts of cars. Over a quarter of the crimes committed in 1989—over 1 million—were thefts from and of cars. Even the hon. Member for Huddersfield would not suggest that when every car is parked there should be a policeman standing next to it to prevent crime.

In the 12 months that ended in March there were more than 400,000 thefts of cars and over 600,000 thefts from cars. So much can be done by better design, by insurance companies and, above all, by the individuals who own cars to take better care of their property. That is where we face the British disease. The incidence of thefts from and of cars is higher in Britain than in any other country in western Europe except Spain. Almost all the rise in crime in the 1980s can be laid at the door of an increase in car crime. The idea that that can be solved simply by putting more policemen on the beat is fallacious. Car crime wastes an enormous amount of the time and money of the police force, apart from anything else. The police spend a great deal of time recording and investigating crimes that are eminently preventable.

I agree with one thing that the hon. Member for Huddersfield said. We are all responsible for playing our part in dealing with crime, whether car crime or any other crime. The hon. Gentleman also talked about safety and said that safety was a pretty good theme. That was one of the few passages in his speech when he was not shouting at me and the Government Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) who, as the House will have noticed, fled from the Chamber immediately afterwards, so awful was the verbal assault. I had to get down below the Dispatch Box, it was so violent, Madam Deputy Speaker. You should defend junior Ministers when they are in trouble in that way.

No, Ma'am, never you.

How on earth does the hon. Member for Huddersfield think that the Labour party's new plans for elected police authorities will help public safety in this country? The hon. Gentleman is fond of challenging Ministers to deny things, so perhaps I shall challenge him to deny that it is Labour policy to have elected police authorities with operational control over police forces—

I think that I shall not give way because it would spoil the grand finale of my speech. It is to say that the Labour party's plans for revised policing will cause a major constitutional—

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Minister begged me to intervene to put the record straight. The Labour party has no such plans as those that the Minister—

Order. The hon. Member knows that is not a point of order for the Chair.

Order. The hon. Member cannot raise a matter further to a point of order when there was no point of order in the first place.

I always accept your rulings, Madam Deputy Speaker, and would not dream of contesting them under any circumstances.