Orders of the Day — Crime (Sentences) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:08 pm on 4th November 1996.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 4:08 pm, 4th November 1996

As the whole country now knows, the Government's record on law and order is the worst of any Government since the war and is worse than that of any other major western country. Since 1979, recorded crime has doubled, and the number of people convicted or cautioned for those crimes has fallen. Under the Conservatives, there is much more crime and many more criminals getting away with it.

The Secretary of State often claims that his overriding concern is the safety of the public, so why do people today feel so unsafe? Why—as last Friday's poll in The Times showed—have law and order and crime and punishment now become the issues of greatest concern to the British public—more even than the state of the economy or the crisis in the health service? The reason for that record level of public anxiety about crime is that the British people have lost confidence in the Government's ability to fulfil the first duty of any Government: to protect the safety and security of their citizens.

A significant part of the Bill is concerned with crimes of a serious sexual or violent nature, with drug dealers and with the scourge of domestic burglary. Let us examine what has happened to those crimes and to the victims of those crimes over the past 17 years.

In each case, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of crimes committed, and an absolute fall in the number of people convicted of them. The number of rapes recorded has increased fourfold since 1980, yet the proportion resulting in a conviction has fallen so much that a rapist now has four times the chance of getting away with his crime that he had when Labour left office.

Crimes of violence have shot up. For every one street robbery—[Interruption.] I am glad that Conservative Members think that that is funny. I am telling the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) that the proportion of people convicted of rape has dropped from 37 per cent. of the number of recorded rapes in 1980 to 9 per cent. in 1994, and he thinks that it is funny.

For every street robbery that took place when Labour was in office, five take place today. The Home Secretary likes to boast about how everything has improved in the past few years, but he should remember that, in the five short years between 1989 and 1994, the number of violent crimes recorded went up by a quarter, but the number of convictions for those crimes fell by a third.

The police, Customs and Excise and the other agencies involved continue to do an excellent job in drug seizures and the arrest of drug traffickers, but the prospects must appear extremely depressing to them. The number of those known to be addicted to hard drugs has more than trebled since 1987.

Even if no violence is perpetrated during the course of a burglary, victims and their families feel violated; the anxiety and strain can last for years. Two or three decades ago, burglary was something that generally happened to someone else; today, it is a commonplace experience, and the poorest people are most likely to be the victims. The number of recorded burglaries has increased by 121 per cent., while those who commit the crime have three times the chance of getting away with it under the Tories than they did under Labour.