Is the Prime Minister aware that there will be widespread concern at yesterday's crime figures. which is why many people will welcome the tougher sentences contained in the Criminal Justice Bill currently before the House? Is she not saddened by the fact that, on certain provisions, particularly the clause that would have allowed for a review of lenient sentences, Opposition Members actually voted against them?
Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. The crime figures published yesterday mean that we shall be even more determined in pursuing our policy to see that the police and the courts have the powers and resources that they need and to encourage people to take more steps to prevent crime. I agree with my hon. Friend that the attitude taken by the Opposition, both in local authorities and in this House, does nothing to help us fight crime.
Does the Prime Minister recall my previous request to her to provide people, especially old people, with help to make their homes secure, to provide for the improvement of housing and lighting schemes and seriously to combat unemployment as practical ways of assisting the police in their increasingly difficult task of preventing and detecting crime? In view of yesterday's truly shocking crime figures and of the 50 per cent. increase in crime since her Government came to office, will the Prime Minister now respond urgently and positively to those requests? Or does she take the same supine view as her Home Secretary, that the Government's anti-crime programme is simply taking time to work?
The right hon. Gentleman is aware that there is already help for older folk with crime prevention schemes. It is operated through the community programme scheme, and operated very well indeed. I welcome the desire for more neighbourhood watch schemes, which already number, I understand, nearly 20,000, are working well and are preventing crime in a number of areas.
I listened carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman said. May I remind him that a batch of Labour local authorities go out of their way to undermine the police and finance criticism of the police at public expense? Worse than that, official Labour party policy would put those very people into a position of control over the police under the plan by which police priorities would be settled by local authorities.
First, all that the right hon. Lady says about Labour party policy is absolute rubbish and completely untrue. Secondly, anyone of any political colour who seeks to impede the proper work of the police is being simply anti-social. No one should be permitted to fall down on his or her public responsibilities. Thirdly, although the various initiatives which the right hon. Lady listed are all worth while, most of them, sadly, are only worthy palliatives. When will the right hon. Lady take action to strike at the social and economic roots of crime, to give people, especially women and old people, proper protection and to take up the issue of recruitment in order to remove the administrative burden on the police, including that imposed by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 that keeps—[Interruption.]
I thought that it would not be long before the Tory party gave up being concerned about crime.
I want the Prime Minister to tell us what she is going to do, in addition to those other things, to remove the administrative burden that keeps as many as 50 per cent. of our police officers off the streets and away from their first task.
I would have more respect for what the right hon. Gentleman has said if he had supported the Prevention of Terrorism Act. I would have more respect for what he has said if he had supported the proposal to refer lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal, and I would have had more respect if his party had supported us in voting for increased maximum penalties. He did none of those things. His party voted against all three.
Would not the cause of law and order be better served if my right hon. Friend would illustrate to us the importance of the loony Left not running down the police on every occasion, and of allowing the police to get on with their job instead of having to monitor processions run by such groups?
The activities of some Labour authorities in undermining the police are well known and I believe that until they are totally and utterly repudiated we must take them into account in viewing the way in which the Opposition propose to tackle crime.
Will the Prime Minister recall the question to the Attorney-General yesterday of the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), and will she accept that, speaking as the Home Secretary for most of the relevant period, I entirely endorse what he said? Is the right hon. Lady aware that it is now her clear duty to set up an inquiry into the activities of certain elements in the Security Service during the mid-1970s?
Surely the crime statistics that have been referred to will lead the right hon. Lady to reconsider her view that there is no relationship between unemployment and crime. Surely the huge increase in unemployment has had exactly such disastrous social consequences. Does she reject the old saying, which I dare say she heard at her father's knee, that the devil finds work for idle hands?
It is a sad fact that the peak age of offenders is 15 years, which is below the school-leaving age. It does not necessarily seem to support what the hon. Gentleman said. Academic research has suggested that there is no significant association between increases in recorded crime and increases in unemployment. I accept that, in general, the phrase that the hon. Gentleman used seems to be true, but it is not borne out by the research that we so far have. He will, of course, know that unemployment involved a much bigger proportion of the working population in the 1930s, but crime was nowhere near what it is today.
Will my right hon. Friend care to look at Hansard of three or four weeks ago, when Lord Mishcon, speaking from the Opposition Benches in the House of Lords on the subject of law and order, said that sentencing in this country was too long and too severe and that it should be shortened, as it is in Holland, where an armed robber would receive only four and a half years, as against 15 years in this country? Is that any way in which to combat crime?
We believe that it is the duty of the Government to see that sufficient maximum sentences are available to the courts in case they should be needed. We have therefore consistently looked at the maxima and increased them where necessary. For example, attempted rape now attracts a life sentence. In the Criminal Justice Bill, for carrying a firearm during the commission of a crime, even when not used, the sentence will be up to life. The last matter was, of course, opposed by the Labour Opposition.
With regard to the answer that the Prime Minister gave the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), why does the right hon. Lady keep calling in aid an inquiry of August 1977, the contents of which she cannot have seen, saying that the allegations that are currently made were investigated then, when they were not investigated then? Fresh allegations should be looked at. The more the Prime Minister calls in aid an inquiry, the contents of which she can know nothing about, the more she strengthens the case for an inquiry now.
The right hon. Gentleman is certainly referring to matters for which I am not, and cannot be, responsible. May I read once again the statement that the then Prime Minister made — [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] — to which I cannot possibly add. It was reported on 8 December 1977. The statement was made during the recess and was referred to in the House.
The Prime Minister has conducted detailed inquiries into the recent allegations about the Security Service and is satisfied that they do not constitute grounds for lack of confidence in the competence and impartiality of the Security Service or for instituting a special inquiry." — [Official Report, 8 December 1977; Vol. 940, c. 1645.]
That is what the Prime Minister of the day said. I can take no responsibility whatsoever for matters that happened before my time. The hon. Gentleman must take up those matters with the Prime Minister of the day.
Does my right hon. Friend appreciate, I could say it in Latin, but I shall not, that the permissive society one generation on has turned out to be the criminal society?
As the head of the Security Service, does the Prime Minister not recognise that if some dissident members of the Security Service in the 1970s tried to destabilise a Government whom they did not like, it strikes at the very heart of democracy? On reflection, therefore, does the Prime Minister not recognise, bearing in mind the answers that were given yesterday by the Attorney-General, that we cannot be satisfied with anything less than a full judicial inquiry about what happened during the time of a Labour Government?
The hon. Gentleman is concerned with something that did not happen in my time and about which the Prime Minister of the day made a clear statement. [Interruption.]