Crime

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:14 am on 5th March 1993.

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Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael , Cardiff South and Penarth 10:14 am, 5th March 1993

I welcome the debate as a sign that the Government are starting to recognise what the Labour party has been saying for some time—there is a crisis of confidence in the Government's handling of crime and a mounting chorus of pleas for action. Those pleas come from Labour Members, the police, the media and ordinary people and communities up and down the country. In the words of the shadow Home Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair): Recent events have been hammer blows on the conscience of the nation. Admitting that the problem exists is only a small first step. We need action, but neither Tuesday's statement by the Home Secretary nor the Minister's opening remarks offered an analysis of Britain's crime problem or a strategy for defeating crime. In addition, the two Ministers did not make the obvious connection between Conservative policies and the growth of an environment in which crime can flourish. Home Office Ministers show no leadership qualities.

The Minister of State started with a philosophic treatise and said that crime was frustrating. It is not just frustrating; it needs to be frustrated. He acknowledged that crime involves people and that victims should come first. He said that police forces were trying to put officers back on the beart. But the Home Secretary's financial regime discourages that, and the red tape of bureaucracy created by the Government impedes police officers.

Since the general election the Government have reneged on the promises that they made. Criticism of crime is a criticism of the Government, not the police. When the Minister considers the complaint of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson), he should note the crime record in recent years. In Avon and Somerset, there was a 212 per cent. increase in crime between 1979 and 1991, but an increase of only 8 per cent. in the number of police officers. In that period the clear-up rate decreased from 43 per cent. to 24 per cent. In Devon and Cornwall, there was a 159 per cent. increase in crime and a 7 per cent. increase in the establishment of police, with a drop from 46 per cent. to 29 per cent. in the clear-up rate. Those figures can be replicated all around the country.

How can the Minister say that he bases his comments on sound research? How can he praise programmes that he is cutting? The Minister gave a list of actions and announced some belated support for victim support schemes. We heard a little about compensation, but the best support for victims would be to cut crime through a proper national strategy to fight crime. The Minister played down the importance and public danger of car crime, particularly death-riding. I shall not use the phrase "joy-riding"—it is death-riding. The Minister played down that problem when he mentioned percentages, as though it were of minor importance. It is not.

In a disgraceful attempt to slur the Labour party, the Minister quoted selectively from our manifesto, which promised more resources for police in the fight against crime. In a mealy-mouthed way, the Conservative party promised more resources for the police, but withdrew its promise as soon as the general election was out of the way. Our manifesto promised help to prevent crime and to increase security, especially for women, who often feel more vulnerable than anyone else. It offered support for victims and contained provisions to give equal access and treatment for all before the law.

The Minister suggested that the rise in crime was not as great as everyone else perceived and that it only seemed greater, because a higher proportion of crime was being reported. That is not the belief of the police, our communities or Members of Parliament throughout the country. The Minister gave us fine words, but condemned himself by defending the Government's record, which is awful and inconsistent.

I shall simply ask one question. If everything is so wonderful and the Government are implementing such a marvellous policy on crime, why is there so much more crime after 14 years of Conservative rule?

Before and since the general election, the Labour party has advanced arguments and made contributions to the fight against crime, including the "7 Steps for Justice" policy published by my predecessor. I have referred to the comments and contributions of my hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, but what we need—and what only the Government can deliver—is action not words. My interest in the subject is not sudden; I have taken an interest in it for 20 years, since I became a juvenile court magistrate, before I came to the House and when I worked with young offenders.

It is curious that in the Minister's comments on the fight against crime, he did not mention secure accommodation. We still have 15 and 16-year-olds in adult prisons, despite the promise given by the Home Secretary and his No. 2, the present Secretary of State for Education, in February 1991 to end remand in adult prisons. That part of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 has still not been implemented because there is still nowhere to put these people. In the two years since the promise was made, not one extra place has been created.

When the Home Office Minister made the 1991 announcement, I tabled questions asking for some basic information: how many places, how much cash, how soon? Far from being answered by the Home Office, all these questions were referred to the Secretary of State for Health. But the buck passing does not stop there. In an outrageously inaccurate comment to the press this week, the Home Secretary tried to blame Labour local authorities for the lack of secure accommodation. That was as inaccurate as the Prime Minister's suggestion of where crime is rising in this country. What about research? If the Minister is doing some research, he had better pass a little of it on to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, neither of whom seems to know what is happening.

The Home Secretary criticised Manchester for not helping to provide more secure places. Is he not aware that the Department of Health steering group has told Manchester that the north-west has enough secure places, so it cannot bid for cash anyway? The right hon. and learned Gentleman criticised Leicester—a hung council which is perfectly willing to co-operate but is still expecting and waiting for capital and revenue cash which the Government have still not offered it.

The Home Secretary said that Nottinghamshire is not willing to help. It has the biggest secure unit in the east midlands, which it has run for 11 years. It has heard nothing from the Department of Health directly about an expansion of secure place provision. The inspectorate has started to talk about capital costs, but not about revenue costs. The Under-Secretary of State for Health has not yet apologised, although he must know that the information that he gave the House last week was incorrect. My local authority, South Glamorgan, has been denied the cash and has been blocked by the Welsh Office in its attempt to provide secure places locallly.