Criminal Instruction

– in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 5th February 1992.

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Photo of John Smith John Smith , Vale of Glamorgan 3:39 pm, 5th February 1992

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to impose restrictions upon the publication of information which may facilitate or encourage the commission of certain offences; to make further provision about the sale of items which may assist the commission of certain offences; and for connected purposes.

The purpose of the Bill is threefold. It would impose restrictions upon the publication or broadcasting of material that provides clear and detailed information and instruction on how to commit criminal offences. It is designed to introduce restrictions on material that is published or broadcast that encourages the commission of criminal offences. Finally, it is designed to place restrictions upon the sale of items that are used solely or mainly to assist in carrying out criminal acts.

I believe that all hon. Members are greatly concerned—as, indeed, is the whole country—about the widespread increase in crime. Many of us, in all parts of the House, complain about it, but rarely are common-sense, practical proposals made to try to do something about it.

It is crazy that television programmes in particular can broadcast information that can be used directly by criminals, or potential criminals, to assist them in carrying out their dirty deeds. This affects all sorts of programmes. They can be entertainment programmes, the familiar detective serials, news programmes and, believe it or not, Mr. Speaker, even programmes whose express purpose is to do the opposite. I refer to programmes that are designed to detect and deter crime, such as "Crimewatch" and "Crimestoppers". Sadly, I have it on good authority that these programmes have become compulsive viewing for criminals. They often provide the most up-to-date techniques on how to carry out offences. I choose, as random examples, breaking into cars, overriding steering locks, crossing wires, breaking into premises, carrying out credit frauds, and so on.

We do not propose for one minute that programmes such as these should be banned. They do a good job. However, people should realise that information may be implanted that could be useful to criminals. If restrictions were imposed upon the publication of that information, no restriction would necessarily be placed on artistic freedom, the dramatic effect of programmes or their accuracy. We need these programmes; they should continue.

In addition, certain programmes appear to encourage people, especially young people, to commit criminal acts. A body of academic evidence is being developed, in particular the work of Professor Bandura, that suggests that children are influenced and impressed by programmes that glorify the criminal and make him out to be an attractive figure. Imitation of criminals is common among young people and may explain why the commission of serious crimes is rising so fast among them.

Last year, a number of my constituents, including concerned parents, and the police contacted me about the content of the well-known children's programme "Grange Hill". It was alleged that that programme showed youngsters breaking into cars and joyriding in them. They were presented almost as hero figures among their peers. One mum contacted me and said, "Mr. Smith, what on earth are you going to do? I am trying my best to guide my children and exercise parental responsibility, but when they turn on television at the peak viewing time for children, they see all that going on."

We should not have to legislate. Responsible programme makers and other people with responsibility for what is broadcast should provide their own code of practice and code of conduct. I stress that there is no evidence that what is being done is intentional, but it is damaging and the House has a duty to the country to try to prevent it.

Finally, it is worrying and disturbing that it is now possible—in fact, it is a widespread practice—to purchase items which are widely advertised in the papers and whose sole or main purpose is to commit a criminal act. One can buy a car lock gun, which is widely advertised and which crooks use to break into cars. I would not mind betting that many hon. Members have had their cars broken into a number of times in the past year or so. We are assisting criminals to do so. It is ludicrous that one can buy such a thing.

One can also buy specialist radio equipment which scans the short waves to pick up police communications, and evidence suggests that it is a common practice among criminals to divert the police on duty. The criminals listen to the radio and commit a criminal act elsewhere, untouched and undetected. The House cannot accept such a situation.

Another ludicrous example is that one can easily buy a gadget to fit on a car which will pick up a radar speed check in advance of the car arriving at that check. There is only one purpose for that, which is to break the law. It is wrong that people should be allowed to buy such items, which are generally available, in order to break the law.

Those are three practical proposals. They are backed by a body of empirical evidence now being produced but, far more importantly, ordinary common sense tells us that the honest, decent, law-abiding citizens who are, sadly, the victims of crime which is undermining the quality of our lives know that it is happening. They think it is ridiculous and that something should be done.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John P. Smith, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Stephen Day, Mr. David Clelland, Mr. Chris Butler, Mr. Alun Michael, Mr. Jerry Hayes, Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones and Mr. Ray Powell.