Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th May 1995.

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Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald , Hertfordshire North 12:00 am, 18th May 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received from the police regarding the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. [23558]

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The representations we have received from the police have warmly welcomed the Act. The chief constable of West Mercia, the chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers crime committee, has said: the provisions … in the Act are balanced, rational and fair and they are welcome by the police service.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald , Hertfordshire North

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that despite the gloomy picture of the Police Federation presented by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) this morning, in fact the federation has warmly welcomed the Act? Yesterday Mr. Fred Broughton described it as the first Act for years to turn the tide. Is it not then astonishing that the Labour party did not have the guts to back the legislation when it was before the House as a Bill?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is also astonishing that the hon. Member for Blackburn went to the Police Federation this morning and pretended to be tough on crime. He did not tell the federation that Labour tried to wreck the bail provisions in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. He talked about the courts being soft on sentences, but did not tell the federation that Labour consistently voted against legislation that gave the Attorney-General the right to refer lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal. The hon. Gentleman did not tell the federation about Labour's attempts to vote against changes to right to silence.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman says, "Untrue," from a sedentary position, but his gesticulations are untrue. It is about time the Opposition started owning up, and they should tell the truth about their attempts to wreck our efforts to fight crime.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

No, Madam Speaker, I did not tell the Police Federation any of those things, because most of them are not true. I told the Police Federation the truth—that crime in this country has more than doubled under this Government, but that the number of convictions and cautions has dropped in absolute terms by 7 per cent. That is a scandal. I also told them that the number—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] I also told them that the number of cases discontinued and dropped—[Interruption.] That is scarcely a laughing matter for constituents. I said that the number of cases discontinued and dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service has risen by nearly 50 per cent. in eight years, and that the acquittal rate in the Crown courts—[Interruption.]

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. The Secretary of State widened the question, and the hon. Gentleman has the right to a defence.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I repeat the point, because the public need to know. Crime has doubled in the past 15 years, while the number of convictions and cautions has gone down by 7 per cent. The number of cases dropped by the CPS has risen by nearly 50 per cent., and the acquittal rate has risen by 60 per cent. Does that not show that there is a serious crisis of confidence in the Crown Prosecution Service, and that reform of that service is urgently needed?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

What the public understand only too well is that criminals are increasingly exploiting loopholes in the criminal justice system. The public also understand that the Government have acted to block the loopholes, and that the Opposition have consistently tried to wreck our efforts to do so.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key , Salisbury

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that my constituents are grateful that the number of police officers in my constituency has gone up and the amount of crime has gone down? Will he support the all-party application—which is supported by the local police—for an exclusion zone around Stonehenge, so that my constituents can go about their lawful duty unhindered and in peace?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will, of course, look at the proposal for an exclusion zone around Stonehenge. The first part of my hon. Friend's question shows that he is in touch with what is happening in the fight against crime, and that the Opposition are posturing in a way that deceives no one.