Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18 January 1996.

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Photo of Alan Milburn Alan Milburn , Darlington 12:00, 18 January 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department in which police force region in England and Wales there has been the lowest increase in recorded crime since 1979. [7851]

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

Since 1979, Merseyside has had the lowest increase in recorded crime, with 34 per cent. I congratulate Merseyside police and all other forces on their commitment in tackling crime.

Photo of Alan Milburn Alan Milburn , Darlington

Is it not a terrible admission that every police force area in Britain has seen record increases in crime since 1979—a doubling across the country as a whole? Is it not also the case that, even if current reductions in crime continue, it will be another 15 years before we return to the levels of 1979? Do not the Home Office figures simply prove that under this Government Britain is less safe?

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

Sensibly, I took the precaution of checking the previous Labour Government's record. The hon. Gentleman tries to pretend that crime was invented or started to rise only in 1979. Crime rose considerably under the previous Labour Government. The one thing that fell was the number of police officers. When the Labour party left office, the police were 8,000 under strength, and they left behind a demoralised and debilitated police force. That was the task that we had to tackle when we came to office. The hon. Gentleman should also give credence to the fact that police forces throughout Britain are now getting on top of crime and that for the past two years crime has been falling, not least in Durham, which includes his constituency.

Photo of John Greenway John Greenway , Ryedale

My right hon. Friend is right to point to the police service's low morale in the 1970s under the last Labour Government and to the fact that, under this Government, police numbers have risen, but is it not the case that rural parts of Britain are not experiencing the fall in crime that has occurred in inner cities? Will he ensure that, in the arrangement involving the 5,000 extra officers that the Prime Minister has promised, extra officers will be deployed in rural areas, where the need is now greatest?

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that, since 1979, we have recruited an extra 16,000 bobbies, and an extra 16,000 police civilians to free up more bobbies to go on the beat, but I caution him on this point: crime in rural areas is falling, as it is falling in the cities. If my hon. Friend considers the crime figures, he will find that crime is falling in rural counties, too. Crime there has risen much less than in cities. Despite what many of our constituents say, rural areas are largely low in crime, compared with some inner cities.

In the funding formula this year, we have ensured not just that every force in the country will receive a generous increase but that every force can recruit more officers if it wishes to do so. I am sure that chief constables will want to ensure that all parts of their patch have adequate police cover.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

When the Minister referred to the last Labour Government's record compared with that of this Conservative Administration, why did he not admit that the rate of increase of crime under the Conservative Administration has been twice as fast, year by year, as under the last Labour Government? It is the worst record of any post-war Government, and of any of the 16 countries surveyed by the Home Office. Does that not show that the Conservative party can be no more trusted on law and order than it can be trusted to keep its promises on tax?

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

I do not say that, because it is simply not the case. The hon. Gentleman likes to take up his international survey, but he likes to stop at 1993. He does not like to go on to the latest figures, which show that crime in this country has been falling faster than in other European countries.

As for the hon. Gentleman criticising our record on law and order, I go back to my point about this country's police service. He and his hon. Friends like to nitpick about the number of bobbies at present, about dozens of officers here and about 50 officers there, but the last Labour Government left us 8,000 police under strength and with a police force that was heading downhill, under a Labour Government going downhill. Our police are now 16,000 stronger. They are getting the technology, they have high-quality officers and they are beating crime, and the Opposition do not like to know it. They like to get bad news stories. That is a disgrace to the police service.

Photo of Sir John Cope Sir John Cope , Northavon

While we are on international comparisons, is my hon. right Friend aware that there are about 18 times as many murders in Washington as there are in the Avon and Somerset police force area? Is it therefore not disgraceful that the State Department should be saying to American tourists that Bristol is not a safe city? It is a jolly sight safer than anywhere in the United States, including Washington.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office)

I should like to see the statement to which my right hon. Friend refers, because it is the sort of thing that I may to wish to take up with our American friends. It is not just that Bristol and Avon are safer than Washington. Crime is falling in large parts of this country and in most police forces. Not just in Avon and Somerset but throughout this country, we have safe communities, to which we welcome all foreign tourists. My right hon. Friend is right to say that the serious homicide rate in the United States is on average 10 times higher than in the United Kingdom. No country is safer than this for our American friends to visit. They should get to the north of England and the Lake district, too.