Crime

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:05 pm on 5th March 1993.

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Photo of Mr David Evans Mr David Evans , Welwyn Hatfield 12:05 pm, 5th March 1993

The most fundamental duty of any Government is defence, whether that be defending citizens from antagonists abroad or unruly elements at home. Indeed, the very essence of a free and constitutional Government is that they keep lawlessness at bay and produce security. I hope that the Minister meant what he said about listening to today's debate.

Many of my constituents feel far from secure. They are either the victims of crime or feel constantly threatened by the wave of violence and theft that is engulfing this country. They are not the people who inhabit inner-city slums, the so-called "no-go" areas of urban deprivation and violence. They live in towns and villages, but they do not feel secure unless their houses are wired up with an elaborate alarm system. They do not go away for the weekend because they are worried about being burgled. That can only suggest one thing: there has been a failure in the rule of law. The House should face up to the fact that there is a crisis of confidence in the country. When people no longer feel safe in their homes it is time to act; time to shift the balance of power away from the criminals.

I welcomed the Home Secretary's announcement this week on juvenile offenders. For the first time, those hooligans will be locked up and, as far as I am concerned, they can throw away the key. Will the Minister assure me, however, that those institutions will not be holiday camps, but prison camps where thugs can learn the meaning of right and wrong? I hope that the Minister will note that it is important that they are run not by failed social workers, who are associated with that lot on the Opposition Benches, but by sergeant-majors.

The Home Secretary has rightly said that recorded crime has risen constantly since the second world war, in times of boom and bust. That tells me that the tack that we have followed so far has failed and that urgent and forceful measures are required to stop the sickening spiral into lawlessness.

Tragically, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary continues to offer the sort of sugar-coated schemes that have been tried and failed. He advocates, for instance, a wide range of crime prevention initiatives to encourage all sectors of the community to work with the police to prevent crime. However, I believe that we should be concentrating not on the law-abiding sections of society, in the hope that they will form neighbourhood watch schemes, good as they are, but on real punishments that will stop people even contemplating crime or make those who have offended wish that they never had.

In international affairs, we have learnt to appreciate the values of effective deterrents and the use of force. It was the threat of nuclear weapons that prevented the communist bloc from transgressing the iron curtain, not the niceties of diplomacy. Despite the views of the CND crackpots on the Opposition Benches, it has always been apparent that the only language that some people understand is that of force. Unfortunately, when it comes to domestic affairs, we seem to forget that basic fact of life. We are now paying the price and the penalty for that.

Although I recognise that the root of crime must be tackled, we still need to act now to deal with the problems that are staring us right in the face. The most important distinguishing characteristic of crime is that it confers on the state the legal right to punish the offender.

Sadly, all too often, attention is focused on the rights of the criminal. I would give the criminal rights—the right to be birched, to be flogged, to be castrated and to be given a damn good hiding. Some people say that corporal punishment undermines an individual s dignity—what about the dignity of the victim? Surely, if the alarming rise in crime tells us anything, it is that many in our society believe that crime pays. Therefore, we must ensure that the punishment is of such a nature that it makes even the most hardened offender think again.

At present, prison—even though it costs the£20,000 per prisoner per year—is regarded as a soft option. Giving 20 lashes per prisoner per year may be more appropriate. Too often, the authorities treat criminals with kid gloves. The Strangeways riot was a case in point. It was sickening to see those men sticking two fingers up to the society that they had defaced. The Government and the police should have given them 10 minutes to get off the roof before using marksmen to pick them off one by one. That would have sent clear signal to all the miscreants in our society.

The state must ultimately reserve the right to take a citizen's life. Some argue that capital punishment is never justified as it violates a human's right to life but without the rope, there is no way effectively to distinguish crimes such as theft from crimes such as cold-blooded murder. Criminals should be in no doubt that when they contemplate a murder or participate in acts such as armed robbery, which so often tragically result in death, their own lives are on the line.

I shall describe some of the origins and causes of crime. The problems that we face today result from the breakdown of discipline, whether in the home, at school or the world at large. Too many parents in this country regard their children as an unfortunate by-product of sex. They pay little attention to their upbringing and exhibit negligible control. As a result, the housing estates are littered with children roaming the streets after dark, and engaging in petty vandalism and theft. Why? Because their parents could not give a damn about where their children are or what they are up to.

It is no good lecturing such people on the need to show more affection to their kids, making them pay fines or even docking their child benefit entitlement—although that would concentrate their mind. The parents of persistent offenders should be put behind bars while their children are temporarily looked after by people who exhibit some responsibility. It is nearly always left to schools to pick up the pieces. It is ludicrous that, when faced with a classroom of hooligans, a teacher cannot resort to corporal punishment or—as in my day—hurl a blackboard duster at the head of an obnoxious student. The result is that the days have gone when you could hear a pin drop in the classroom and we now have a generation that are out of control. What sort of message goes out to the public when a rapist is told by a judge to give the victim £500 for a holiday so that all will be well? The rapist should have his goolies removed.

My friends know my honest view of Europe, but one practice from the Community that I would grasp with open arms is national service. Young people—both men and women—can learn the benefits of discipline, teamwork and deference to authority. The term should be 18 months. People say that we cannot afford it, but I say that we cannot afford not to have it. People may talk about a peace dividend, but events around the world show us that we must be on our guard more than ever before. We cannot forget the schemes that incorporate community work—what young people really need to be told is to "get some in".

As well as being concerned about the breakdown of discipline and respect for authority in our society, I am also deeply worried about the extent of television and cinema violence. In a society where many children lack guidance, the violence depicted in the visual media has a disturbing effect. Where else do youngsters get the idea of maiming toddlers? Where do youths get the idea that wielding a gun or knife is glamorous? Too often, violence is depicted without a moral standpoint or, worse still, the homicidal maniac is idolised. Children must be protected from such garbage. Again, that involves the participation of parents, who too often prefer to be down at the pub.

What of the Labour party's law and order policy? What a joke it is. The malaise in our society that has contributed to the rise of lawlessness has largely been as a result of the ideology of the Labour party. That party has paid more attention to rehabilitating or excusing the offender than punishing him. The Labour party is pathetic.

Since 1979, the Labour party has fought against every major piece of legislation designed to combat crime. Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), go up and down the country moralising and talking hypocritical nonsense. They opposed the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which strengthened and clarified police powers in criminal investigations, and the Public Order Act 1986, which provides the police with stronger powers to deal with street disorder.