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Bail Offenders

Volume 202: debated on Thursday 23 January 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures he intends to take to deal with repeated offenders who commit crimes while still on bail; and if he will make a statement.

We are examining carefully the evidence from a number of recent studies by the police and others of the extent of offending on bail, and considering, in consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers and others, what further action might reduce offending by people released on bail. We will announce our conclusions in February.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that more could be done in the first instance to prevent offences? Is he aware of the excellent work being done by Crime Concern? Will he produce his White Paper on the subject soon? Is he aware that one Bolton youth was arrested 30 times last year for car crimes?

The answer to the first of those three points is that the Home Secretary will shortly be publishing his promised and much looked forward to paper on criminal prevention. The answer to the second is that I agree that Crime Concern, which enjoys all-party support in the House, does excellent work. The answer to the third is that the Criminal Justice Act 1991 introduced new guidelines which can be passed from the magistrates to the social services to ensure that from October this year juveniles can be remanded in custody under certain conditions not previously available to the courts.

Is the Minister aware that not only juveniles but adults are committing crimes while on bail and that many crimes now being committed by adults while on bail involve firearms? Does he agree that it is time we had a real clampdown on the possession of firearms throughout society, remembering that the problem will not be cured unless the Home Office takes strenuous action in relation to the legal as well as the illegal holding of firearms?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the recent rise in the number of crimes involving firearms. There were about 9,000 last year, of which about only 4 per cent. involved replica firearms. We have the toughest sentences available in any country in western Europe for the carrying of firearms. Carrying a firearm in the commission of a crime can attract up to a life sentence. New sentences became available to the courts with the passage of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, and quite right too.

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the delegation that I led to the Lord Chancellor to consider the problem of bail bandits and light sentencing by Crown courts, and to the concern in my constituency that the Hampshire police authority is short changing the Isle of Wight in terms of the number of constables on the beat?

The answer to my hon. Friend's last point is that when the Secretary of State made his announcement about the additional real 1,000 police coming on stream this year, he said that 80 per cent. of them should go straight on to the beat. The answer to his first point is that it is absolutely clear that a number of people who break their bail conditions are remanded in custody when they are brought back to the court; but that happens in only about six out of 10 cases, and in four out of 10 cases when those who break their bail conditions are brought back to the court, it seems that they are no longer remanded in custody but are again let out on bail.

On the subject of repeated offences, will the junior Minister now say why crime has risen on average by 6 per cent. each year since the war but rose by 18 per cent. last year?

There are a number of reasons for crime. You, Mr. Speaker, would not permit me to give a full answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question, which reminds me of a minute that I sent out, when I went to the Home Office in 1987, to the then permanent secretary. It simply said, "Please, what causes crime?" Reasonably enough, I have never had an answer. The decisions of individual men and women to commit bad acts is what causes crime. It is no good the Labour party seeking again and again—as it did this morning—excuses for why people offend. Rather, it should look for ways of dealing with those people when they have offended and ways of preventing offending.

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance yet to read the excellent report submitted to him by the chief constable of Northumbria about the problem of constant reoffending on bail? Is he aware that that problem is made worse by a small hard core of young criminals who offend again and again, but that that is not always known to the justices? What action does my right hon. Friend intend to take?

As I said in answer to the main question, in the announcement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will make in February, we shall be able to give a fuller answer than I can give now. We have in the Home Office a copy of the very helpful report by the chief constable of Northumbria and we have also been greatly assisted by the work of the members of the Police Federation, who have co-operated in the analysis of the serious problem of offending on bail.