Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11 March 1993.

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Photo of Mr Terry Lewis Mr Terry Lewis , Worsley 12:00, 11 March 1993

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures he proposes to reduce crime in districts outside the designated inner-city areas.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Government support and have encouraged the police and other agencies in the development of effective crime prevention programmes in all parts of the country. We support a combination of good policy and community-based crime prevention activity such as neighbourhood watch, which, with national initiatives such as Car Crime Prevention Year, can make an impact on local crime levels.

Photo of Mr Terry Lewis Mr Terry Lewis , Worsley

How does that square with the comments of Earl Ferrers in another place that Greater Manchester police have 227 too many policemen? How does it square with the cancellation of the safer cities project or with the apparent lack of co-operation between Departments, which is distorting public spending and revenue support grant and not helping outer-city areas that have inner-city problems? Westminster city council receives £500 per head more than Salford and Wigan. How can that be right and how will it help those on the ground, including neighbourhood watch, to deal with the problems that the Secretary of State mentioned?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Police manpower is up by 30,000 compared with 10 years ago and since taking office we have increased real-terms spending on the police service by 81 per cent. In addition, we have backed projects such as safer cities in Salford, which has been a great success in reducing crime in parts of the borough. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, it was never the intention that the safer cities initiative should concentrate set sums of money in particular places indefinitely. We are moving on to a second phase of projects elsewhere and I expect that the Salford safer cities initiative will become self-financing, like similar initiatives elsewhere. We have spent £20 million on safer cities in the past three years and have made provision for a further £20 million over the next three years.

Photo of Mr Terry Lewis Mr Terry Lewis , Worsley

Why scrap it if it is working?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am delighted by the hon. Gentleman's tribute to the success of our safer cities initiative, which, as he said, has reduced crime in parts of his borough.

Photo of Mr Anthony Coombs Mr Anthony Coombs , Wyre Forest

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the best way of reducing crime is by appropriate and rigorous punishment? When he considers amendments to the criminal justice system, will he bear in mind the fact that punishment should be aimed as much towards deterrence and protecting innocent members of the public as to rehabilitation of the offender? The Labour party obviously has not learnt that lesson, because in its manifesto for the last election it devoted only 155 words to law and order, which was less than it devoted to national heritage.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I agree that one aspect of combating crime must be effective punishment. During our term of office, the length of sentences for violent and sexual offences has increased, which has given the public some relief from the activities of the most serious offenders. We tackle crime in other ways, such as Car Crime Prevention Year, safer cities, drug prevention teams and so on. The Labour party has not added much to those 160 words. It may have added verbiage, but, so far it has not made a single policy proposal since the election.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Mossley Hill

Does the Home Secretary agree that the massive increase in crimes against the person from 7,500 in 1955 to more than 191,000 last year is, in some small measure at least, attributable to the large amount of violence that is shown on television programmes? Has he seen today's report from Lord Rees-Mogg and the Broadcasting Standards Council, which mentions excessive levels of violence being shown, including an attack on an elderly lady that was screened just after 9 pm? Does he agree with Lord Rees-Mogg, rather than with Alan Yentob at the BBC, that excessive violence on television is one of the factors in the level of violence in society today?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Personally, I agree with that—certainly up to a point. The increased propensity of young people to contemplate violence and growing insensitivity to violence have been encouraged by the extremely realistic violence to which they are more regularly exposed on television. Lord Rees-Mogg's group was set up to monitor that and to give strong advice to television companies. The best way to proceed is for the television producers and television authorities to show more common sense, good taste and restraint. I particularly agreed with Lord Rees-Mogg's strictures on Central Television for showing the interviews with the serial killer who is in prison. I tried strenuously through the law courts to prevent that action.

Photo of Mr Michael Stephen Mr Michael Stephen , Shoreham

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the public are particularly at risk in residential areas with a high incidence of burglary, in shopping centres and on public transport? Will he encourage the recruitment of many more special constables to protect the public in those places?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Certainly; we are conducting a drive to recruit more special constables and we are experimenting with the introduction of modest payments for some special constables when they might otherwise lose earnings by participating. We very much value the contribution that special constables make. That will enhance the already increased manpower of the fully professional police force. It will also enhance everything that we are doing to reduce burglary in residential areas and, through business watch and other schemes, to make business premises safer as well.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair , Sedgefield

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman not aware that, as crime has more than doubled in the past 14 years and has risen by more than 50 per cent. in the past three years, now is the last time that we should be cancelling safer cities projects, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis) said, have actually been working? Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman also understand that as crime is not getting better, but is getting worse, his message that there must be a freeze on police numbers is the worst possible message that he can give to the country? Would it not be better if he lifted the police freeze and allowed more policemen and women back on to the beat where they are wanted?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The safer cities initiative had been one of the most successful things that the Government have done to tackle and reduce the level of crime in particularly difficult parts of cities. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman supports that policy. However, he is wrong to say that we are cancelling it. Some £20 million has been spent over the past three years and another £20 million is to be spent over the next three years. We are not continuing the central Government financing that we started with. We always made it clear that we were going to move on to other cities and we are doubling the number of projects.

I have already said that police manpower has increased by 30,000 since we took over from the former Labour Government an under-resourced, underpaid, undermanned police service and transformed it into a service which has been given a unique priority by this Government ever since we have been in office.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns , Chelmsford

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that one of the proposals to which he should give more urgent consideration is that which relates to the responsibility of parents in controlling their children? Does he accept that it is absolutely crucial that parents do not abandon all responsibility for their children, that they ensure that their children are at home and supervised in the evenings, that their children do their homework and that they spend more time talking with their children and entertaining them, instead of letting them go around our streets and towns at night, bored out of their brains, causing mindless acts of vandalism and crime?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I endorse all that and I am sure that the progress of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education in establishing closer links between parents and schools and in tackling truancy and, I hope, involving parents in tackling truancy and confronting their responsibilities will help. Where parents fail to do that, and where they could make a better contribution, the Criminal Justice Act 1991 now gives power to the youth court to have parents brought before it, be bound over if necessary or obliged to pay their children's fines. As I recollect it, that was another strengthening of the law which was opposed by the Labour party.