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Mr. Sheerman : I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene again. I also thank him for his words of clarification. There has been immigration to this country for the past 20 or 30 years, and the people who have come from the Indian sub-continent and the West Indies have distinguished themselves by their willingness to adapt. I praise the members of those communities who have adapted, and the vast majority of them who live within the law. Ethnic and cultural minorities have every right to pursue their religions and cultural differences as long as they obey the law, and that is what ethnic minorities have done in this country for hundreds of years.
The challenges that I have discussed must be faced up to if we are to find a lasting cure for lawlessness. These challenges are daunting, inherently controversial and unavoidably long term. Reliance--dare I say it?--on the short sharp shock highlights the wrong target. Adults, not the young, are to blame--if we are seeking to apportion blame. All of us in adult society set the examples for young people to follow. The rising tide of lawlessness will be turned only when we all commit ourselves to self-discipline and the rule of law. Only then can we hope successfully to impose discipline on the young and bring them up to a better world.
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Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar) : The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) has raised an important subject for debate today. When most people think about lawlessness, they are concerned about the lawlessness that makes women feel unsafe to go about after dark and that makes them stay at home from early in the day during the winter. They think of the lawlessness that makes them worried when they go on holiday that they will find their homes broken into when they return. They think of the violence of drunken people hanging around outside their estates at weekends. These things are important to the quality of everyday life. I shall seek to show that it is Government policies that are causing the increase in this sort of lawlessness.
Before doing so, I must point out the large scale lawlessness about which the average person does not think and often does not know. It was only earlier this week in a debate in the House that I realised the involvement of the Mafia in massive fraud in the EEC. Most people do not know about the carousel of lorry-loads of food that are taken from one country to another to obtain grants from the EEC until the food reaches a state of putrefaction. This country loses billions of pounds because of the multi- millionaire firms which sail close to the law with the help of legal advisers. They keep within the letter of the law, but not within its spirit. The ordinary working person has tax deducted from his wages, but these huge conglomerates get away with paying no tax to the country by registering abroad and other devious devices.
The blame for everyday lawlessness is often not put on its originators. The press conspire in this. There has been much talk about lawlessness on the football terraces. After the Heysel stadium incident, it was left to the Belgian press to reveal the role of the National Front ; only then did our papers mention it--and they soon stopped doing so. We read of crowds of Germans--the Nazi salute is banned in Germany--standing in amazement while English football fans raised their arms in Nazi salutes in small German towns.
Incitement to racial hatred on the football terraces has been a major cause of violence. The Race Relations Act 1976 should be enforced rigidly. We need a new Act that will deal more severely with people who perpetrate incitement to racial hatred. That would go a long way to clearing up the problems on the football terraces. The Government's proposals for identity cards are not the answer. This is a political problem to which a political solution is needed to tackle the people who encourage this form of violence.
The motion states that the causes of the increase of lawlessness are many and varied, and it seeks to blame teachers, church leaders and politicians. It might well blame politicians because it was the Prime Minister who said that society does not exist, and this Government spread the idea that everyone must stand on their own feet, and that everyone must look after himself and look out for himself. That is surely a continuation of the "I'm all right, Jack" attitude of the Macmillan Government that society does not exist and the weakest go to the wall. It is regarded almost as a crime to be unfortunate and unsuccessful. The punishment for being unfortunate, unsuccessful, disabled, having a large number of children or losing the race for jobs is to live in abject misery.
Column 1162Government policy has caused the increase in lawlessness. The cuts to local authorities have led to a deterioration in the provision of street lighting. I spoke in the debate on the safety of women on London Transport and mentioned that the cuts in the number of guards in the Underground system and the lack of frequency of bus services have led to increased attacks upon women. What I said in that debate holds true throughout the country. Lawlessness is made easier when the money for services which improve the environment and social conditions is cut.
The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) spoke about latch-key children. I taught children for many years and I know how awful it is for them to come home to an empty house. Children and mothers do not want that. The Government should be paying for carers to enable men and women to care for the old, the disabled and children in peace without worrying about every penny or being driven to the breadline, yet the Government have frozen child benefit, the only money that goes directly to mothers. They have introduced new social security provisions whereby women seeking unemployment benefit have to fill in a questionnaire to prove that they are ready for work immediately, even if they have to arrange for the care of babies. If they give the wrong answers, they are not eligible for benefit. Those measures are putting the squeeze on family life and increasing lawlessness. The cuts in rate support in my area mean that swimming pools have closed down, there is less money for grants to youth clubs and play centres where children can go after school so that if mothers have to go out to do waged work their children are well taken care of. More children are roaming the streets looking for excitement and getting into trouble. The cuts that the Government have imposed are causing the situation to deteriorate.
The Government's new laws are criminalising many poor people. Ministers say a great deal about the virtue of family life, but the horrendous unemployment created by their monetary policy has done more than anything else to cause the break up of families. The right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) told people to get on their bikes and look for jobs. Young people in particular have to move around the country to look for jobs and some of them are getting into trouble. There is nothing wrong with mobility and young people leaving their families and seeking independence, provided that society provides a safety net so that they do not get into trouble. The Government are tearing away that safety net.
When 16 to 18-year-olds are thrown out of home, they can claim no money and there are often no places on training schemes, so they sleep rough and try to find food. When they sleep rough, they meet rough people and often have no alternative but to break the law or to starve. Not every child between 16 and 18 can go back home. They are not always wanted. They come from homes which may have all sorts of pressures and difficulties. Sometimes they go to big towns to seek work, or simply to seek excitement and adventure. There should be a safety net. They should be able to claim social security until they find their feet. Young people seeking jobs should not be forced to move from town to town every few weeks because of the
bed-and-breakfast rules. This has led to hardship and trouble and to increased conflict with the law.
The Department of Social Security seems to believe that all people under 25 live at home with their parents. It may pretend that that is the case, but in the real world that is
Column 1163not what happens. In 1986 young people who needed money to enable them to look for jobs received £30 a week, but now they receive only £26. At the same time, the law has been changed so that supermarkets can sell beer. That is no small matter. I believe that the sale of spirits and beer in supermarkets has been a major cause of the increase in drunkenness and lawlessness. A licensee would be quite experienced in assessing who is under 18, but everything is done in a hurry at the cash desk in a supermarket and no one cares. Something should be done about that as it is part of the cause of the increase in lawlessness. Will the Government, who work in the interests of profit, do anything about it? Is it more important that supermarkets make hugh profits or that we do something to stop teenage drunkenness?
Mr. Sheerman : Does my hon. Friend agree that over the past 10 years there has been almost total neglect of the enforcement of the law relating to young people and alcohol? In the United States laws have been introduced to prevent young people from drinking until the age of 21.
Mr. Sheerman : It is not Labour party policy. The Labour party policy is that the Government should throw off the shackles of its great friendships in the brewing industry and enforce the law relating to drinking under the age of 18.
Ms. Gordon : I agree with my hon. Friend that the law needs enforcing more rigorously to ensure that people under the age of 18 do not drink alcohol, especially in large quantities. The fact that alcohol is sold in supermarkets makes it impossible to enforce that law, so it should be stopped.
Because of rising prices and the lack of facilities because local authorities are so hard pressed, there is no cheap way for young people to spend an evening except to go to the pub and have a pint. If there were viable alternatives and if the threatres, groups and concerts that used to be funded by local authorities had not dried up because of lack of funds and rate capping, young people would not be turning to pubs as the only way to spend an evening out that they can afford. If more young people had well -paid jobs and were not so poor, they would not be so restricted in their recreational activities. The hon. Member for Colne Valley suggested more repression as a solution to increased crime but nothing could be more false.
In the 1960s--I know that it is a long time ago, but the principle remains the same--I was a visiting teacher at Holloway prison. My first surprise was that, because of the regulations in those days, the women I taught preferred to receive a two-year sentence to an 18-month sentence because if they got two years they could spend their last nine months in a hostel in the prison grounds. They could go to work and part of their wages was banked so that they had some money on leaving the prison. They had to be in
Column 1164by 10 pm and could go home at weekends. They were happy to be supported on that scheme and preferred it to a shorter sentence. Most of those women were recidivists. On coming out of prison, their furniture would come out of store, they would pay off their debts and their children would come out of care, but because they could not get a decent job or because they had several children and could not work they could not manage on their small amount of money. Those women could not withstand the pressures of life or manage money as well as most. On the whole, they were inadequate, unfortunate people who needed help. If there had been a safety net or some help available they would not have continually been in trouble, ending up in prison over and over again. Indeed, although they were bad at the crooked things that they did and were always being caught, they had no alternative because they could not manage in any other way, and, once they left prison, society did not give them the help that they required.
Child abuse is a form of lawlessness that I fear society will rapidly try to sweep under the carpet. It has become horribly clear in the past few months that that form of lawlessness--the physical and sexual abuse of tiny children--is happening on an enormous scale. When society saw that it was something with which it did not know how to cope, its reaction was to put the frighteners on the doctors so that they would not reveal the truth. I do not want to go into the dispute about the doctors involved and whether their methods were as good as they might have been--the main point is that the frighteners have been put on doctors so that they will not continue to disclose the extent of that problem. That will not solve anything. Such abuse is a major form of lawlessness that society must face up to and do something about.
Many of the women in Holloway to whom I have referred and, indeed, other offenders--I am not saying "all" because there will always be some people who will be in trouble no matter what help they receive--have no alternative but to offend. However, if being poor were not made a crime, if poor people were not criminalised and if many ordinary law-abiding people who had kept within the law all their lives were not forced to do a job on the side while taking social security because otherwise they would starve, much of the lawlessness would stop.
In my surgery I see a continual procession of old-age pensioners. Sometimes the men weep, saying "I was in the Army and have worked hard all my life, but now my rent has been put up and I cannot manage. What am I going to do?" I also see a continual procession of women who are now desperate. Those women have brought up their families through hard times and depression and have sometimes gone out to work for wages as well as doing their unpaid work of keeping house. The Government are driving people to desperation and criminalising the poor. They are cutting to the bone the money for local authorities and increasing lawlessness through their savage policies.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) for the opportunity to debate lawlessness--this most important subject on today's Order Paper. In the past few years, the Government have been driving forward a major radical reform programme in all aspects of
Column 1165government. It is important that we continue that momentum when dealing with the problems of lawlessness that we face in our streets, homes and schools as we try to create a much more ordered society. Conservative Members are bursting with ideas and initiatives to try to deal with the problem. However, we feel that the responsibility for ensuring law and order and for dealing with lawlessness rests first and foremost with the individual and, not least, Members of Parliament. Yet this morning we have been treated to an extraordinary exhibition of lack of responsibility from one of our colleagues, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes). As a Member of Parliament, he advocated for the rest of the community an example that most of us would totally reject--that we should break the law by non-payment of the community charge. If we follow the logic of his argument, we would say, "I do not like income tax, so I will not pay it." If that argument were extended to its logical conclusion, the whole fabric of our society would crumble and there would be anarchy.
Conservative Members believe in democracy. If a Labour Government were elected, we would oppose their proposals in the Chamber. Perhaps they would propose a new tax, but we would honour the democratic views of the population of this country by paying that tax, should it be passed through the House. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East should show the same responsibility in relation to the problem of lawlessness by recognising that the community charge was part of our manifesto, that it was supported by the public during the election and has accordingly passed through the House. He should respect the democratic view of the House and of the people of this country and pay that tax. It is astonishing that an elected representative can flout the rule of law in that way and bring the House and the views of the public into such disrepute.
One matter that is of grave concern to me is the issue of sentencing on which we should take a major initiative to attack the problem of lawlessness. In the past few years there has been a growth in our prison population. In 1969 it was 32,400 ; in 1978 it was 41, 800 and today it is 50,000. If we project it forward to the year 2000, it will be 70,000, with the attendant need for more prison places and more prison officers.
A major reason for that increase is our ladder system of sentencing offenders. When a young man or a young girl appears before the juvenile court for the first time, he or she will probably be told off, given an absolute or conditional discharge and allowed to go his or her way. On returning on several occaions, such young people receive conditional discharges, supervision orders, care orders and fines. Often they will appear five, six or seven times before a court says, "Enough is enough. We must now deprive you of your liberty to stem the tide of your criminal behaviour." However, during that period we have established in the mind of the offender the idea that he or she can get away with what has been done. The offenders develop contempt for our court institutions for the police and for the institutions of law and order generally. We must face that problem sooner or later. I advise my hon. Friend the Minister of State that the way to deal with that problem is to sort out those offenders much earlier. We should not allow offenders to climb the ladder of offending in the way that they have been doing in the past. So many
Column 1166of our non-custodial sentences constitute a minor form of punishment and offenders believe that they are getting away with it. That can only breed contempt.
I call for an entirely different approach and I suggest that it will take about 10 years to deal with the problem. If someone is a first offender and the offence is relatively serious, that person should be deprived of his liberty immediately, but for a very short period. Many judges subscribe to my view that often a few days spent in an elderly prison, of which we have many, like Armley, Strangeways, Lincoln or Wandsworth here in London, would be sufficient to deal with the problem. Before that offender becomes used to the regime, he is released. He carries burning in his mind the memory of the unpleasantness of an old Victorian prison. I advocate that for adults who offend for the first time.
A similar approach should be taken towards younger people who offend for the first time. We could use old detention centres or youth custody for a short time. If we closed the door of the cell behind the offender for about two weeks that would burn into his mind the knowledge that he will find himself in a similar environment if he appears in court again.
The sentence should have two aspects. First, it should act as punishment, for which I have advocated the short sentence. Secondly, there should be rehabilitation and involve many of the good ideas set out in the Green Paper "Punishment Custody and the Community" produced by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office. The probation service, social workers and supervision should help the offender through the few months after the end of his sentence and so help him in the community.
It is most important that we stop offenders in their tracks early. If we do that, we will build respect for the police and our institutions. However, that will take a long time and it might take 10 years to roll back the contempt which has been built into our society.
As a criminal practitioner with years of experience in the law, I know that many of my clients with records have received non-custodial sentences. They have walked away from court and their parting words to me have often been, "But I got away with it." To a certain extent, we must rethink the process.
A programme such as that which I have described, will involve the prison service. I respect the point made in the Green Paper that we need to build more prisons, and we are in the process of doing so. However, my hon. Friend the Minister should consider the type of prisons which should be built. I believe that we should be building remand centres. I advocate that we separate our remand population from our prison population. Prisons should be reserved for people who have been sentenced. We should in no way cross pollinate the remand centres with prisons. We are dealing with people on remand who are innocent until proven guilty. We should deal with those people differently. The major problem in our prison service lies with the remand population, not with prisoners. If we removed the remand population, there would be no problem.
Where should we locate the remand centres? The major problem with the courts involves transportation from the remand centre to the courts. There are also problems with consultation involving lawyers and with visits from relatives, which avoid alienation. Therefore, remand centres should be built in town centres, as close to the courts as possible. We should draw on the American
Column 1167experience. The Americans have remand centres which look more like condominiums or tower blocks than old- fashioned prisons. Those centres work on a different principle from ours. We move the prison population around. Our prisoners move towards the dining hall and other services. In the remand centre system in the United States, the services go to the population. With different types of offender on different floors, a young offender who may be a first offender having been refused bail, is not mixed with old lags who might influence him adversely. Offenders are separated. That is a better way to deal with the remand centre population, as it removes adverse influences. All that might take time. In the meantime we should recognise the anxieties felt by the public. Some people are allowed bail in circumstances which many of us would question. Therefore, a tagging system must be introduced, particularly as it safeguards the interests of the public. It would also reassure magistrates who worry about the size of the prison population.
Sometimes magistrates wonder whether they should let someone go into custody and deny bail. In those circumstances magistrates often err on the side of caution and release that person. A tagging system would give the public confidence, because many offences are committed by people who are on bail. It is astounding to consider the number of burglaries that an accused person commits while on bail and which he asks at his trial to be taken into consideration. Tagging would be a very good way to deal with that.
Some of my hon. Friends have raised the matter of right of silence in police stations. It is time that the right of silence for people in custody was abolished. It was introduced at a time before the accused person could give evidence in court on his own behalf. In 1972, the Criminal Law Commission advocated in a report by Lord Justice Lawton that the right of silence should be scrapped. We should really consider that now.
In rape cases in which I have been involved in the defence, I have known the accused man's defence and I have seen a girl enter the witness box six months after the allegation was made and for the first time face the proposition that she consented to the sexual act which led to the charge of rape. That was the first time that that was put to her, because when the accused was interviewed in the police station, he exercised his right to silence. We must stop the ambush defence and create a situation in which, if the accused enters the witness box, he can be asked why he remained silent in the police station when he had the opportunity to provide an explanation. The jury has a right to know.
The accused would still have the right to remain silent in the system that I advocate. However, he has the responsibility, if he gives evidence in the witness box, to explain to the jury why he elected to remain silent. The jury will have to decide whether that explanation was appropriate, and that can be weighed in the balance of guilt or innocence.
When dealing with lawlessness, we must not forget the legal profession. The administration of justice is of the essence. Many hon. Members, particularly those of us in the legal profession, welcome the proposals in the Lord Chancellor's Green Paper on the legal profession as a
Column 1168breath of fresh air into a profession which has been protected for many years by what can only be described as restrictive practices. I must say to my colleagues at the Bar, in the House of Commons, in the Lords and in the community that, if they are specialised advocates and their work is of a sufficiently high quality, they will have nothing to fear from competition. I believe that in the future there will be a specialised independent Bar, especially in relation to criminal matters, that will be able more than adequately to deal with the problems of the British public.
Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : Did my hon. Friend notice any similarity between the way in which the barristers in the Bar Council were squealing about the excellent suggestions put forward by the Lord Chancellor and the way in which solicitors generally became very worked up and started shouting when the idea was proposed, with equal justification, to demolish the conveyancing monopoly?
Mr. Hind : My hon. Friend made a good point. It is a sad sight to see a profession defending its corner against principles that we in the House believe in--protecting the consumer and open competition. I see it, sadly, in my own profession.
I believe that the Green Papers will open the door to that specialised criminal advocate among solicitors who wants to come into the Crown court and has an expertise to offer, and who will improve the service that is offered to the public. In the same way, a specialised advocate at the Bar, who is a criminal specialist, has nothing to fear from competition.
I regret that I must leave the House, so I shall not be able to hear the reply of my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) or the speech of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), and I apologise for that. However, I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that much of what he is doing is vital if we are to drive forward radical reforms in the area of lawlessness. I advocate that he continues his work, and he has my wholehearted support. I hope that he will take on board some of the thoughts of both myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley, which were put forward in the most charitable way, to assist him in his task. 12.1 pm
Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston) : We live in a violent society, and not all the violence is illegal. We live in a society where the state spends a considerable amount of its resources on weapons which threaten the survival not only of the entire human race, but of our very planet. The society in which people grow up nowadays is an extremely violent one. The concept of lawlessness does not go far enough in considering the seriousness of the matter.
I believe that it is quite impossible for young people to grow up with the respect for humanity and human life that they should have, when they are set such examples by a society that is in possession of nuclear weapons and that has made a deliberate threat to use those weapons. Of course, hon. Members are aware that the NATO Alliance, of which we are part, is committed to using nuclear weapons first if there is any outbreak of what are euphemistically called hostilities. A violent society is a bad setting in which to live. Not all the violence is illegal, as I have said, but it should all be remedied.
Column 1169I notice that the motion calls for moral leadership, and lists a number of people and bodies from whom that leadership should come. However, it conspicuously omits the Government. I believe that the Government have a great responsibility to give moral leadership, to show how much they respect other people, how much they understand their problems and how much they seek to help them and to provide a society in which it is easier for people to help one another. I may wish to develop that theme a little more later.
I deplore a violent society and the images of violence which constantly assail people--whether those images are of the real world or whether they are of so-called entertainment. There has been quite a bit said so far about the role of television and I agreed with many of the comments made. I believe that television has shown much irresponsibility, which has nothing to do with artistry or with freedom of expression, but is more a gloating over images of violence. However, not much has been said about the press. I want to draw attention to the images of women which are carried day by day in the popular press--supported and honoured by Conservative Members--which degrade women and which amount to an incitement to rape. As a member of Parliament, I feel that I should read all the newspapers. Of course, they are all provided for us, so that is easy. We do not even have to use our own money to pay for the trash. Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman rose--
Mrs. Wise : I find it a difficult task to read the so-called popular press. When I do read the tabloids, at the end of the process I feel soiled and degraded. I think to myself that this is what is happening to people every day. The images that people are picking up of what is news or even what is entertainment are absolutely degrading.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Does the hon. Lady not regard this awful pamplet as degrading to women? It refers to alternative insemination and a public meeting to be held on 16 March in Manchester. It has been advertised by the Manchester gay centre. It is a pamphlet that was on display in Manchester public library. Is that not degrading to women?
Mrs. Wise : The hon. Lady has already used an intervention to make that point. It has already been explained to her that much more information would be needed than the fact of the hon. Lady standing up and saying that she possesses a leaflet. I know nothing about the issue, so I have no opinion about it. It is my practice to have opinions only on matters that I can back up with knowledge. It is an abuse of the House for the hon. Lady to make the same intervention twice. She is using up the time of the House unnecessarily. She has not, of course, done what I hoped she would, which was to reinforce my statements about the images of women which are contained not in an obscure leaflet, but are contained every day in a newspaper with a mass circulation. The hon. Lady has refrained from giving us her valuable opinion on that matter. I take it that she approves of what is put forward, for example, in The Sun . I take it that she believes that that is an admirable picture of womanhood, and very helpful to women. I take it that the hon. Lady approves of the constant imagery used in advertisements, which portrays women either as brainless or as sex objects.
Column 1170In fact, not even whole women are portrayed, but just bits of women are constantly shown on the advertising hoardings, which suggests that we are not real people at all. We never see a man displayed without a head. We never see the occasional man's leg around. However, that is the way in which women are portrayed. Such advertisements are extremely damaging. It is up to all of us, including Conservative Members, to tell the popular press that it has some responsibility and should not bring this country into disrepute by giving us the worst popular press in the world.
Much has been said about crime but not, funnily enough, about the victim. I want to draw the House's attention to the fact that the people who suffer the most from crime are people who live in the poorest areas and already have more than enough problems to cope with. The people in those areas often say to me that they want a type of policing with which they can identify and have confidence in, rather than a type of policing which suggests that, somehow, they deserve the problems they face. People who live in leafy suburbia do not have the most to fear from crime.
In common with most women, I am anxious to have a lawful society. People should be able to go about their business quietly in peace and in confidence. I do not believe that the present Government's activities contribute towards that feeling. The Government's concepts about crime are repressive, but singularly ineffective. The same can be said about their views on punishment. The hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) spoke about locking doors and "burning into people" and he used a particular tone of voice which was rather chilling. He was advocating a type of punishment which is ineffective.
We have a much higher proportion of custodial sentences than the rest of Europe, but that method is not working. I have no particular sympathy for the criminal and, in general, I have a considerable hostility towards him. Even when I understand why some of them take to crime, I am still hostile towards them because I believe that they should find other ways in which to sort out their problems. I do not take my stance out of sympathy for criminals, but because of my concern for the effective protection of society.
The present methods adopted to combat crime are not working and the rate of re-offending, re-conviction, re-sentencing and return to prison is enormous. We should look at the statistics and learn some lessons from them. We should listen to what the prison officers are telling us. Those officers, by definition, have no love of criminals. The other day I attended a meeting Upstairs where I heard a serious description from a prison officer about what is currently happening in our prisons.
Mr. Hind rose--
Mr. Hind : The hon. Lady and I agree that the present system is failing. Does she agree that one possible way in which to approach the problem is to deal with people much earlier, before they develop a contempt for the law and become recidivists? That is what I was advocating, and that approach could solve many of the problems that the hon. Lady has outlined.
Mrs. Wise : What struck me about the hon. Gentleman's speech was what he said about tagging as a means of dealing with people. There was a notable omission in his speech about prevention ; rather, he dwelt on punishment.
Prison officers have no love, affection or softness towards convicted criminals, but they have said that, because of the circumstances, people are being treated like animals. There is no adequate sanitation in prisons, and people are locked up for many hours of the day without any privacy or facilities for the normal functions of life. I have always been an opponent of "slopping out" as it is called, but, before the meeting I attended recently, I had not considered it from the point of view of the prison officer. He described vividly what the absence of proper facilities in prisons meant to him. When the slopping out is done, a good deal of the slop finds its way on to the prison officer, but he just has to bear it. We are asking prison officers to cope in prisons without providing the conditions in which they can do constructive work. In addition to the loss of liberty--the punishment intended--people suffer a total loss of dignity. If one treats people like animals it may well make them like animals. That is no way in which to protect society. The prison officers could tell us a good deal of useful information. I was surprised to discover their anxiety to do more constructive rehabilitation work. I realise that I have not been disposed to listen sufficiently in the past, but perhaps a Back-Bench Member has more excuse than the Government.
The hon. Member for Lancashire, West spoke about the tagging system, but he should listen to the probation officers who also have the job of trying to rehabilitate people so that they do not commit crime in the future--they are bitterly opposed to tagging. The Government appear to consider anything except constructive solutions. The Government are also using the prison system as yet a further test of their doctrinaire desire to privatise everything in sight. I was stunned to hear that we are to have private remand centres and private security facilities for escorting people to and from prison. It appears that people will make profits out of another person's loss of liberty. Society has a right to protect itself, but it does not have the right to give private companies the opportunity to make profits out of people's loss of liberty.
The example set by the Government is appalling. As well as the obvious types of violent crime, there is the quieter lawlessness, which receives a good deal of equally quiet, tacit approval from Conservative Members. Lawlessness is inherent, for instance, in the practice of some employers of ignoring the minimum wages laid down by the wages councils. Those minimum wages are not
Mrs. Wise : I am drawing attention to an aspect of lawlessness. If the Minister wants to make an intervention or a point of order, I suggest that he does so, rather than harry me from a sedentary position, but I warn him that I am not easily harried, so he might as well be quiet.
The quiet, but none the less important, lawlessness to which I wish to draw the attention of the House is the widespread practice of ignoring the statutory minimum rates of pay that are laid down by the wages councils for 2.5 million workers in this country. I regret to say that
Column 1172many employers flout the laws, but those laws affect people's purses. When people are deprived of their legal entitlement to wages laid down by law, it is robbery. It might be quiet, but it is robbery just as much as it would be if the employer went to the handbag or the pocket of his employee and took the money.
Mr. Dykes : As a responsible legislator, the hon. Lady must be extremely concerned about such breaches of the law, especially as she suggests that it is on a large scale. It is her duty to notify the authorities and to give them all detailed information so that they can take out the necessary prosecutions. Has she done so?
Mrs. Wise : For once, I am grateful for a helpful intervention. Later I shall describe how the Government can find out about this widespread flouting of the law. The Government claim that there is very little such law-breaking, but that illustrates their failure to read their own statistics. Perhaps that is part of the reason why they tend to reduce the amount of statistics available to us. Luckily, we still have the new earnings survey, which shows that 10 per cent. of female shop assistants are paid less than £2.10 per hour. The wages council legal minimum rate for shop assistants is £2.33 per hour, which means that more than 10 per cent. of female shop assistants are being robbed. My example is generous because, clearly, the proportion on lower rates is higher than 10 per cent, if we add those getting between £2.10 and the legal minimum of £2.33. Hon. Members do not need to act as private detectives for the Government, because the Government should be aware of this widespread law-breaking. It is illustrated in their own statistics, yet they deny it. In so far as the Government can be said to be at all embarrassed about such law-breaking, they propose that the best way to proceed is not to tackle the law breaker but simply to remove the law. That is an odd attitude to lawlessness. The Government also have the mechanism of inspection to discover law-breaking, and trade unions are eager to draw the Government's attention to specific cases of flouting of the law. However, the Government are simply not interested in that, because it is merely low-paid, hard- working people who are robbed. We never hear anything about that from Conservative Members.
There is another form of law-breaking in employment ; it relates to those employers who neglect to ensure that working conditions are safe even though they have a legal responsibility to do so. Perhaps I had better rephrase that. It is their legal duty to do so "as far as is reasonably practicable", but employers tend to interpret that as meaning, provided it does not cost them very much.
There are far too many accidents at work, but what was the Government's reaction to that? Was it to make sure that breaches of the law which frequently lead to death and disability were found? That was certainly not their reaction. They reduced the number of factory inspectors, although numbers were already inadequate. Even the Government realised that they were going too far, and they have started to move timidly in the other direction slightly to improve once again the number of factory inspectors. However, the number remains substantially below that which existed before the Government came to office. That is quite scandalous and shows a lack of moral leadership by the Government to employers to ensure that
Column 1173there are no avoidable deaths and disabilities at work. However we hear nothing about that, because Conservative Members are not interested.
The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) would have done the House a bigger service if he had taken the opportunity to draw to the attention of his Government the matters that I have raised. I have not even touched on the large-scale fraud, the technical robbery, frequently perpetrated by the friends of Conservatism in the City of London. I shall leave it to other hon. Members to deal with that. Perhaps even Conservative Members, who know more than I do about the workings of the City, would care to say something about it. Somehow I doubt it.
I reiterate my view that the best way to prevent crime, lawlessness and violence is to provide people with an environment in which there is no institutional and state violence and in which the Government are working for a peaceful world instead of brandishing weapons which could destroy it. That is the first step towards prevention. The second step is for everyone, including the Government and hon. Members to use their influence on those whose money has given them power to control the press.
The press is not controlled by people who are particularly good at writing or particularly interested in freedom of expression. It is controlled by those few people who have the money to do it. By using their money in this way they have degraded the term "freedom of the press" and the profession of journalism. The attention of such people should be drawn to their responsibility for providing an environment that does not glorify crime, which does not incite people to commit crime by implication, and which treats everybody with respect. They could play an important role, but at the moment their role is wholly disreputable.
The Government could choose to show compassion and encourage other people to show it. They could provide an environment in which hostels for homeless people, battered wives and mentally disturbed people could be helped. Instead, many such hostels will be compelled to close their doors after April. The Government could ensure that such places, which do useful work, could be financially helped, instead of being financially choked.
The Government could provide young people with help, instead of waging war on them. They could draw attention to the quieter but no less obnoxious crimes that lead to workers being robbed through their wage packets and being placed in unnecessarily dangerous working conditions. If the Government did that, we would live in a better society and there would be no need to concern ourselves so much with lawlessness, because it would be of much smaller proportions. 12.28 pm
Mr. David Amess (Basildon) : The debate has revealed an enormous gulf between the two sides of the House on the question of lawlessness. I, for one, am particularly pleased that I sit on this side of the Chamber.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) on the eloquence of his speech. Those
hon. and hon. Members who heard it will clearly understand how it was that he wrested his seat from the hands of Socialists after 102 years. Mr. Sheerman : The hon. Gentleman cannot get even that rightThe hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) took the seat from a Liberal. I hope that the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) will wake up, and that his speech will improve as it goes on.
Mr. Amess : I am glad that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) intervened, but I know perfectly well that it was a Liberal seat. I just happen to believe that all right hon. and hon. Members who sit on Opposition Benches, with the exception of the Ulster Unionists, are Socialists. I do not understand why the hon. Member for Huddersfield is sensitive about Liberals being regarded as Socialists. I thought that he would be very proud of that. There are not even any Liberals in the Chamber to hear the debate--that is how much they care about lawlessness.
I congratulate also our team of excellent Home Office Ministers. I applaud them on all their initiatives of the past few years. The only matter of disagreement between us is the restoration of capital punishment. That is a topic on which right hon. Members decide as individuals, but I for one believe that life has become very cheap these days, and that the restoration of capital punishment--though I would never wish to see it carried out--would serve as an effective deterrent. I believe also that my view has the overwhelming support of the people of this country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley was right to mention the concern that people feel about lawlessness. However, the public should not imagine that right hon. and hon. Members are unaware of what is going on in our country. Three years ago, my cousin's wife was murdered in broad daylight. Only three weeks ago, my own flat was broken into. It was a violent attack, with an axe being used to gain entry. The thieves were not particularly bright, because there is nothing of value in my flat other than some pictures, which the burglars left while taking other items that I regard as being rubbish. My right hon. and hon. Friends are well aware of what is going on in the country, but, judging by the disgraceful speeches made by Opposition Members this morning, nothing is being done by them to improve the situation. Rather they are undermining efforts to do so.
Since 1979, the Government have increased police manpower by 21,300 officers. Police pay, training and equipment have also been improved. I do not agree with those people who believe that more police, and more officers on the beat, are needed. In my county of Essex, the Government recently increased the police establishment by 70, which I welcome. Also important is the way in which police are deployed, for we must make the best use of the limited resources at our disposal. Government spending on the police has risen by 52 per cent. after inflation since 1979, and no other public service has enjoyed such a large increase. More officers are being put back on the beat. Since 1983, about 3,300 officers in forces outside London have been released for street duties by engaging civilians to do desk jobs. There are now 750 more officers on street duty in London than there were 12 months ago, and I applaud the Government for that improvement.
Column 1175As to crime prevention, I am delighted that 64,000 neighbourhood watch schemes are now in existence, including an excellent one in my constituency. The police believe that they help to prevent some of the 19 in every 20 crimes against property. The latest figures show an 8 per cent. drop in the number of domestic burglaries. I am delighted--I know that the public feel strongly on the subject--that the Criminal Justice Act provides for a right of appeal against excessively lenient sentences.
We have the biggest prison building programme of the century. By the mid- 1990s, 28 new prisons will have been built since 1979. The hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) spoke of the state of our prisons, but the Liberal- Labour Government that we had to endure between 1974 and 1979 did very little in that regard.
I wish that hon. Members who have spoken this morning had expressed some sympathy for the victims of crime. As constructive Members of Parliament, we should display much more sympathy for them. That is why I am delighted that the Government are making available £3.7 million in 1989--90 for local victim support schemes. More than 300, 000 crime victims were referred to the schemes last year, and I applaud the one now operating in Basildon.
When I was sent to the House six years ago it soon came to my notice that many people had a poor view of Basildon. They assumed--a typical assumption --that it was full of rough east enders and was a lawless area. As an east ender myself, I was not going to let people cast aspersions, and I am pleased to say that Basildon's image has improved dramatically over the past few years. My hon. Friend the Minister has been to see the excellent work being achieved by the local community. Six years ago we had one police station. We now have three--one in Pitsea, one in the town centre, and one in Laindon. The public's response has been wonderful : people feel much more confident that there is a local point of contact.
Six years ago we also had the highest lawlessness figures in the county ; the latest figures show a decrease of some 11 per cent. in recorded offences. The number of reported burglaries and vehicle crimes has fallen by 13 per cent. Let me quote from the latest statement issued by the chief superintendent :
"our current strategy of creating greater awareness of crime by the public together with specific target operations appears to have" had a considerable effect. The overall detection of 30 per cent. over the past 12 months is just below the county rate of 32 per cent. Unfortunately, however, crimes of violence continue to cause concern, with an increase of 19 per cent. across the county.
All Members of Parliament observe the aggressiveness of a minority of members of the general public. We see it on the tube and in the streets, and particularly in the way in which people drive their cars. A total of 72,453 offences have been reported in Essex over the past 12 months, of which 12,342 have occurred within the Basildon division. Last year we launched a campaign called "I love Basildon". Car stickers were issued, and there has been a wonderful response to the campaign--the burden of which is that we are creating a fine town and wish to keep it that way.
The schools in Basildon have responded marvellously, rallying round to assist our campaign to solve the litter