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

If the hon. Gentleman had not been so intent on intervening, he would have heard me say that social factors do not excuse crime but they need to be understood. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to reflect on the fact that if the references to the social causes are weasel words, they are being made by chief police officers throughout the country, by the Archbishop of Canterbury and by the Home Secretary. They are certainly weasel words by the Home Secretary, because he and his Cabinet colleagues do nothing to tackle these problems.

The whole problem needs to be tackled. We have not got matters out of proportion. We say that the whole picture—from social causes to firm dealings with serious and repetitive offenders—needs to be tackled. I have suggested what a lunatic Prime Minister who wanted to increase crime would do. It all sounds rather familiar because it is what the Conservative party has been doing for the past 14 years.

I do not subscribe to the conspiracy theory or the mad dictator theory. I just think that we have an incompetent Government who have lost their way. That is why I offer our formula for success in the fight against crime. I shall do so briefly because interventions have lengthened my speech.

First, we ask the Government to accept that there is a crisis of confidence and that they must provide a national strategy that respects and supports a dynamic partnership at local level. It is unfortunate that the Government have not adopted that approach. Secondly, the Government need to speed up the criminal justice system. They must ensure that there are quick decisions in dealing with juvenile offending. If there is an immediate response to offending we shall be more likely to win the battle against youth crime. Thirdly, we need to ensure that a range of options is available early and effectively. I have in mind support schemes to make cautioning work, bail enforcement schemes, early intervention to make offenders face their responsibilities and the reparation order that we suggested in our recent proposals. In other words, there must be tough and demanding approaches in the community to take a grip on youth crime.

Fourthly, we must recognise the impact of Government policy and reverse the cuts in the youth service that we experienced last year and which will be experienced again this year. We must improve housing and increase education and training opportunities. Fifthly, it is necessary to recreate the sense of community, citizenship and mutual responsibilities, which Opposition Members value and nurture in our communities. All these things need to be backed by a dynamic partnership between the police, the local authority and the community. With that, there will be a chance of reuniting people in the fight against crime.

I ask the Government to accept that while good leadership by a local authority and high-quality policing can achieve miracles for a time, it is vital that the Government accept responsibility and launch a national strategy that is designed to fight crime. They must provide the resources that will be needed for a local fight back by local people. We bear the cost anyway. The cost of car insurance has increased by 20 per cent. this year, as has the cost of house insurance. We pay for the increase in crime as we take money from our pockets, and we do so in other ways.

People throughout the United Kingdom demand that the Government recognise their responsibility to lead the fight against crime. They demand that the Government develop a coherent strategy to prevent crime, to divert youngsters from crime, to intervene quickly when youngsters start offending and to offer opportunities to leave the path of crime. They must be tough in the community and out of it in dealing with those who will not respond. On every one of these tests, the Government are failing.

I ask the Government to recognise the strength and wisdom that lie behind the demand of my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield that they should be tough on crime and, at the same time, tough on the causes of crime. I hope that Ministers will be big enough to admit that Conservatism in recent years has failed and that Labour's radical and practical approach to crime offers the best chance of success, from imprisonment to crime prevention.

I have concentrated on youth crime because it is the area of crime with the greatest potential for speedy intervention. As we face the challenges of Europe sans frontiéres, of computer crime, satellite sex, video violence, international business crime and terrorism, we must remember that the bulk of crime takes place at local level among families and communities whose cohesion has been stretched to breaking point. The present generation of young people need help now, as will the young people who will follow it.