Violence on our streets is a matter of great concern to the Government, as it rightly is to the public. We are supporting the police in their efforts to curb this menace, and we are concentrating resources on certain urban high-crime areas through our safer cities programme. We have also produced a crime prevention handbook that contains advice on what citizens can do to reduce the risk of attack. Nearly 2½ million copies of that handbook have been distributed. I am pleased to say that the number of robberies recorded by the police nationally fell by 3·7 per cent. last year. The fall in Derbyshire was a notable 15 per cent.
While welcoming any fall in the number of robberies, and being pleased with the fall in Derbyshire, which was greater than the national average, does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the greatest ways in which the public can help the police is by taking greater care of their property? Far too often temptation is put in the way of people. Property could easily be put out of sight and thereby crimes could possibly be averted.
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the remarkable fall of 15 per cent. in the number of robberies in Derbyshire last year. He is also right in saying that the average citizen should take every conceivable action to defend himself against unwarranted attack by ensuring that temptation in the way of property is not carried around too openly in the streets or left lying around in his home or motor car. It is simple self-defence and self-protection very often.
Is the Minister aware that, with sexual assaults, street attacks and street robberies are the crimes most feared by the public? Has he had an opportunity to look closely at the performance of the Battersea division of the Metropolitan police which has reduced street robberies by more than 60 per cent. in the past two years? Will he consider how far its special concerted tactics are applicable to other urban areas, especially in South Yorkshire?
I was rather hoping to get the opportunity to raise the remarkable success of the Battersea division of the Metropolitan police. Help comes from unusual quarters on occasions. The hon. Gentleman is right that in 1988 the division cut violent crime by a third through a concerted attack on it and through better targeting by the police over a four-month period. It also improved the clear-up rate by 12 per cent. As the hon. Gentleman said, other forces can learn lessons from the Metropolitan police about how targeting can not just displace but break up and disperse areas of notable high crime.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a prime concern of many people is the level of armed robberies? Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the sentences imposed by the courts are adequate to deter the growing incidence of this disease in our communities, bearing in mind that most people want substantial sentences to combat that problem?
I greatly welcome what my hon. Friend has said. We already have the reforms which were introduced in the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 and perhaps more importantly the increased sentences provided for the courts of up to, for example, life imprisonment for carrying a firearm in the commission of a crime. The courts have a severe range of penalties for those who use, let alone carry and use, firearms in the commission of crime and we hope that they use them.
I am sorry to remind the Minister that robberies increased by 160 per cent. between 1979 and 1986 whatever he says about last year and our information is that that crime is increasing yet again this year. Does he not know that successful packages to act against robbery and crime of this kind are usually led by a local authority-police partnership? Will he explain why, with the announcement of the new safer cities programme, which includes Wandsworth and Islington, the committee that was set up in Islington totally bypasses the police consultative group and excludes from the 12-person committee any councillor, saying that only representatives and officers from Islington can serve on the committee?
We want to see the maximum possible co-operation to continue the successful downward trend in crimes against property and crimes of violence. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not think it notable that crimes of robbery—street crimes—fell last year by 3·7 per cent.
The safer cities programme is extremely important and we welcome the co-operation of local authorities of all political colours. I wish that more Labour-led local authorities would heed what Sir Peter Imbert said yesterday when he criticised so many Labour-controlled boroughs for getting in the way of the proper working of police-public consultative committees. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's right hon. and hon. Friends in the new convenient Socialist world that they are trying to create will try to talk to some of those Labour authorities and persuade them to co-operate with the police.