Orders of the Day — Criminal Justice Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:58 pm on 27th November 1986.

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Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 5:58 pm, 27th November 1986

No, I shall not give way any more. I have been asked by Mr. Deputy Speaker not to give way. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. He knows that usually I would give way to him.

Yesterday—the Home Secretary has referred to it—nicely in time for the debate, the Home Secretary published, at public expense, a glossy Tory party propaganda document which, using rigged statistics and distorted diagrams, tries to play down the crime increase under the Government.

For a Government or a Tory party document, it breaks new ground because it contains jokes. On page 40, in a chapter satirically entitled "The Way Ahead" it says: If terrorists win substantive concessions from a democratic government in one country they are likely to give encouragement to terrorists in other countries. That cannot be meant seriously in the light of the Prime Minister's statement a dozen days ago in Washington when, referring to President Reagan's sale of arms to Iran, she said: I believe implicitly in the President's total integrity on that subject. The Home Secretary may not have read that document. I offer him the excuse that it is likely that he does not read a great many of the documents that come out in his name,. but this strange document makes crime in Britain seem a remote possibility indeed.

In the document the Home Secretary says that the "statistically average person" can expect an assault resulting in injury "once every century". That reassurance will be a source of great comfort to the 750,000 people in England and Wales alone who have been victims of violent crime since 1979.

The document says that our standard Thatcherite citizen can expect a burglary in the home once every 35 years. That, of course, makes everything perfectly all right for the victims of the 7 million burglaries which have taken place in Britain since the Government came to power.

The document says that there are no simple solutions to the problem of crime". That was not what the 1979 Tory manifesto said when it proclaimed: Surer detection means surer deterrence". But under the Government, detection has become less sure with a fall in the clear-up rate from 42 per cent. to 35 per cent.

The document depicts crime as some natural phenomenon such as the tides or the seasons. The Home Secretary said: The growth in recorded crime seems to have a momentum of its own which has hitherto defied the efforts of any Government to check or reverse it. That is rich coming from a party whose 1979 manifesto implied that the then much lower level of crime was the fault of the Labour Government.

The document says: Crime defies the efforts of any Government to check or reverse it. That is odd coming from a Government whose 1983 manifesto claimed: Already street crime is being reduced and public confidence increased in some of the worst inner city areas. That is a bit of a contrast with this document, which says: The risk of crime is not evenly spread amongst the community. The British Crime Survey shows that people living in inner city areas face a risk of being burgled between three and six times greater than residents of other neighbourhoods. Though high-risk communities comprise just over a tenth of households in England and Wales, residents of these areas were the victims of a third of the burglaries, a quarter of the car thefts and a third of the street crime…reported to the British Crime Survey. That is the party that said, in 1983: street crime is being reduced and public confidence increased in some of the worst inner city areas. The fact is that, under this Government, 10 million more crimes have been committed than under the Labour Government, whom the Prime Minister used to blame for crime. Under this Government, the incidence of theft has risen nearly twice as fast as under Labour. The incidence of robbery has risen nearly three times as fast as under Labour, and that of burglary has risen more than four times as fast as under Labour. The crime figures for England and Wales for the first six months of this year show that the crime crisis in worsening. Compared with last year, in the second quarter of 1986, all crime was up by 8 per cent., violent crime by 6 per cent., theft by 8 per cent., vandalism and criminal damage by 9 per cent., burglaries by 10 per cent. and sexual offences by 17 per cent.

In the first six months of this year, there was one crime of violence against the person every four minutes, one act of criminal damage every 50 seconds, one burglary every 33 seconds, one theft every 15 seconds and one crime of some kind every eight seconds. What will this Bill, this alleged centrepiece in the fight against crime, do about that record crime wave? The answer is, next to nothing. The Bill is not so much about preventing or fighting crime as about what is to be done with alleged criminals when they have been caught, and what is to be done about apprehended criminals when they have been convicted. The plan is to send more and more to prison. But the Home Secretary's own statistics show that 58 per cent. of convicted criminals imprisoned with a sentence of three months or more are back inside prison within two years, and that 69 per cent. of young offenders taken into custody become recidivists and go back into custody.

If this long, complex and largely irrelevant Bill is the best that the Government can do, there is no hope under the Conservatives of any progress being made against the crime wave. Under this Prime Minister, communities have been robbed of the resources that they need to prevent crime. Millions of people are forced by this Government to live without hope or belief in the future. Our nation has become a family divided against itself. In those circumstances, we can expect only an inexorable rise in crime of every kind.

To check and reverse that crime wave, we need to bring the British people together as partners against crime and fear. For that partnership we need not a new Bill but a new Government—a Labour Government who will provide the policies to unite the nation against crime.