Violent Crime (Prevention)

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th March 1988.

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Photo of James Paice James Paice , South East Cambridgeshire 12:00 am, 17th March 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent measures his Department has taken to combat crimes of violence.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

We are further strengthening the police, we have put before Parliament proposals which will increase certain penalties, strengthen existing controls over the possession of guns, prohibit the sale of specified offensive weapons, and make it an offence to possess a knife in a public place without good reason. Our present crime prevention campaign is aimed at the 4 per cent of crime committed against the person, as well as the 96 per cent. committed against property.

Photo of James Paice James Paice , South East Cambridgeshire

Bearing in mind that crimes of violence in Cambridgeshire rose by almost 20 per cent. last year, will my right hon. Friend agree to reconsider his decisions regarding Cambridgeshire constabulary's request for extra police officers? Will he take steps to ensure that the Government's policies are co-ordinated across all Departments to try to encourage a sense of responsibility among parents and other people to try to stamp out violence where it begins?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's second point. He will have seen what we are doing about that. If we could reduce the crime figures simply by increasing the number of police, we would have solved the problem long ago, because the manpower available to the police has increased by 20,000 since 1979. No public service has had a bigger increase in resources. As my hon. Friend knows, we are in the middle of a further expansion of the police. We met the Cambridgeshire request, but only in part, last year. I am considering the latest application that I have received from that constabulary, alongside many other applications, before deciding on the increase for this year.

Photo of Mr Roland Boyes Mr Roland Boyes , Houghton and Washington

The Home Secretary will be aware that the Northumbria police have one of the highest rates of serious crime per policeman and that the chief constable identified a need for between 500 and 700 extra policemen. In fact, there has recently been a shotgun attack on a sub-post office in my constituency. Why does the Home Secretary not produce the money that is needed to employ those extra policemen, because if he does not, does that not demonstrate that his party's claim to be the party of law and order is bogus and just empty words? It is action that we want. Why will he not cough up the cash?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I cannot take that from the hon. Gentleman. I have given the figure for the immense increase both in resources and in numbers available to the police since the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) was the Home Secretary. No other service has had a comparable increase. Now we are faced with a series of applications from different police authorities throughout the country. I test those in the light of the advice that I receive from the Inspectorate of Constabulary. It is partly a matter of population growth and partly a matter of the incidence of crime, but we must also ask whether a particular authority and force are making the best use of the resources which they already have, given that it now costs between £2,000 and £2,500 a week to keep one police officer permanently in post.

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Castle Point

My right hon. Friend will know better than most of the increasing volume of under-age-drinking in public houses and the connection between that, the fracas and the consumption of police time and energy. Will he resist any suggestion that there should be further liberalisation of drinking hours until the problem of under-age-drinking has been tackled energetically and successfully?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

My right hon. Friend is perfectly right to make that link. He will know that that is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set up a committee under the chairmanship of the Lord President to consider this and other problems related to alcohol abuse. He will also know how, in the Licensing Bill, we have strengthened the precise proposals about under-age-drinking, with which he is concerned. He may be referring to a change made in that Bill in another place and there will, of course, be an opportunity to discuss that when the Bill returns to this place.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South and Morley

Would the Home Secretary be happy to have the crime rate that he inherited from me in 1979? Does he remember all those specious policy promises made in 1979, all of which have gone wrong?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I thought that I might flush the right hon. Gentleman out. As he knows, although violent crime has continued to increase, it has been increasing under this Government at about half the rate of increase over which the right hon. Gentleman presided. The main difference between the two sides is not that crime has increased under the one and not under the other, but that we have done something about it by way of a substantial strengthening of the police force.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Dickens Mr Geoffrey Dickens , Littleborough and Saddleworth

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the state has a duty to protect its citizens, that the public demand a country where women are safe to walk without fear of being molested and raped, where the elderly — [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman must have his say.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Dickens Mr Geoffrey Dickens , Littleborough and Saddleworth

—where the elderly can feel safe in their own homes and where children can play safely without fear of being abused and killed? Will my right hon. Friend state firmly that that is the objective of the Government?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

Of course, my hon. Friend is entirely right. That has been our objective and is reflected in the proposals that we put before the House and in the way in which we spend taxpayers' money.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor , Dewsbury

Will the Home Secretary turn his attention from the sensational to the serious problem? Will he accept that one of the best hopes for crime prevention is the proper rehabilitation of offenders? How does he think that this can happen when conditions in prisons are such that, for a whole weekend recently, only eight prison officers were left in charge of D wing at Wormwood Scrubs, where there were over 200 life prisoners?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

The increase in the staffing of our prisons has been more rapid than the increase in the prison population. The hon. Lady is perfectly right to say that prisons have to be staffed as well as built. That is why I have obtained the resources from the Chancellor to increase the staffing in our prisons by 1,960 this year, of which only 600 are to replace normal wastage. I hope that the hon. Lady will also share with me the thought that, whatever the difficulties of the prison service and its members at present, it cannot be justified for the staff in two major London prisons, Pentonville and Wormwood Scrubs, to intensify those difficulties by refusing to accept prisoners.