– in the House of Lords at 2:44 pm on 22nd March 2005.
asked Her Majesty's Government:
By how much recorded violent crime and gun use has increased in the past eight years compared to the previous eight years.
My Lords, between 1989 and 1996 there was an increase of 36 per cent in offences involving firearms (excluding air weapons). Changes in reporting and recording mean that figures for 1997 and 2003–04 are not directly comparable.
Between 1989 and 1996 there was an increase of 44 per cent in violent crime. Again, changes in reporting and recording mean that figures for 1997 and 2003–04 are not directly comparable.
Without the NCRS and increased reporting, recorded violence would have fallen.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. I must declare an interest as the current chairman of the British Shooting Sports Council and as a former chairman of the Firearms Consultative Committee. Will the Minister confirm that violent crime is higher than this time last year and that, indeed, gun crime has more than doubled since 1997? Will she further confirm that the majority of gun crimes were committed using illegal firearms?
My Lords, I will not confirm those figures, but I will tell noble Lords why that is so. First, there is a difficulty because the method of counting offences has changed. Noble Lords will know that, for example, offences such as assault and harassment were added to the list of notifiable offences. Secondly, I refer to offences that used to be counted as one, offence per victim. For example, two groups of four attacking each other could now constitute eight offences where previously it would have been one of affray. That is why I cannot confirm that there has been an increase: the way in which we count these offences has changed. In addition, we have made a concerted effort to enhance the reporting of offences such as domestic violence—high levels of common assault arise from that—and sexual offending. For those reasons we hope that the figures are increasing.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that recent incidents in Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham and London are a matter of serious concern? Does she also accept that there is evidence that guns are an essential part of gang culture where drugs play an important role? Are there any specially designed school and youth club projects to divert young people from becoming involved in such crime?
My Lords, while gun crime absolutely remains an issue it is relatively rare in this country, as the noble Lord will know. The Government recognise the devastating effect of these crimes on the families of victims and on local communities where they take place. The Government are determined to tackle gun crime and the underlying culture that supports it. We are working with police and other statutory agencies, the voluntary sector and local communities in that regard. We have funded a number of programmes that seek to divert those people from that kind of activity.
My Lords, does my noble friend care to consider the figures for the same period in the 1970s and compare them with the following Conservative government's? She will find that whether it was a matter of gun crime or ordinary crime the Home Secretary of the day must have been scintillatingly good.
My Lords, I can only agree with my noble friend.
My Lords, the Minister will be well aware that for the past seven years the Government have failed to implement Parliament's requirement for a central register of guns and of applications. Does she remember that her noble friend Lord Rooker said on
"Our expectation is that we will probably be ready for roll-out by July this summer"?—[Hansard, 27/1/05; col. 1389.]?
As there have been so many failures to meet undertakings given, will the noble Baroness confirm that that is still likely?
My Lords, the noble Lord has rightly pressed this question on a number of occasions and I know from my noble friend Lord Rooker that he has had pleasure in answering. As the noble Lord will be aware, we want to see this introduced. The Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO) is pressing ahead to resolve the difficulties which are principally related to in-force information systems and the amount of traffic they can handle. We shall certainly write to the noble Lord as soon as we have further information.
My Lords, will the noble Baroness comment on how effective she considers police and community initiatives have been, for example, the police initiative, Operation Goodwood, in Manchester and the faith communities' initiative, Street Pastors? Will she also comment on the effectiveness over the past 12 months of the outcome of the Home Office conference, Connected, which was held in January 2004?
My Lords, I am happy to confirm to the right reverend Prelate that we believe those measures have had significant and important impacts. They are a way forward. The joining together of all those working in the community to reduce the incidence of violence, particularly violence involving gun crime, has been instrumental in the drop in figures that we have seen in a number of areas. We will seek to continue that approach to meet this difficult issue.
My Lords, can the Minister clarify the point that she made when she answered the noble Lord opposite? Is it really not possible that the names and addresses of those who have sporting licences for shotguns and rifles cannot be matched against the names and addresses of those who have been convicted of gun crimes? If that is so, we still do not know how many gun crimes, if any, have been committed by people who are holders of sporting gun licences.
My Lords, noble Lords will be aware—I am sure that it has been debated on a number of occasions in this House—that the 43 police areas have different systems of IT; and that PITO is pressing ahead as hard as it can to resolve the difficulties, which are principally related to in-force information systems and how they correlate. Those matters are being energetically looked at, not least because I am confident that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and others will continue to press this issue, rightly, until they get an answer. That is a helpful spur to those of us who come to the Dispatch Box.