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Column 1176problem. I regard litter as an important subject, and I very much hope that the Home Office and the Department of the Environment will take careful note at the successful project that has been launched in Westminster. One of my constituents is working with the ZIP patrol in Westminster. He says that within a very short time Westminster council has been able to do something about litter. I commend to the House the ten-minute Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) has introduced, which would lead to on-the-spot litter fines.
Basildon is conducting a campaign to discover why young people are standing on street corners and causing annoyance to the general public. It is not because there are no leisure facilities in Basildon. The 52 per cent. rates increase announced by Basildon has nothing to do with health, education or welfare ; it has all to do with expenditure on leisure facilities. There is no earthly reason why some young people stand on street corners and cause annoyance to members of the general public in Basildon.
The "I love Basildon" campaign is all about involving the community in improving law and order. No hon. Member has a simple or complete answer to the difficult problems with which we are trying to cope. It is all about people's personal behaviour ; it has nothing to do with unemployment, or low pay, or with the Government's policies. I applaud their policies. I hope that all hon. Members will help to take the political heat out of the issue by supporting the Government. Then I am sure that lawlessness will be greatly reduced.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I appreciate that hon. Members are called according to the rules, but, before Tory newspapers or the media generally refer to the fact that two Tory Members of Parliament were called in succession because no Labour Members were on their feet, I want to put it on record that there was at least one Labour Member standing at that time. The point that I am making has nothing to do with the Chair.
Sir William Shelton (Streatham) : I apologise to the House for arriving here shortly after 11 o'clock. I have been here ever since. I was unable to arrive before then because I was attending a press conference in Lambeth town hall that was addressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier), the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. It was a very successful press conference. Many people who have been trying to buy their council houses from Lambeth for up to three years were present. The good news for them was that from midnight last night the law allows them to put their rent against the price that they have to pay for their council house, if they suffer undue delay.
I believe, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), that the Home Office has got it about right. the chief superintendent in Brixton, to whom I was talking the other day, thinks that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 has many advantages and that the Criminal Justice Act 1988 covering sharp
Column 1177instruments is very good and is working well. He thinks that a period of consolidation is needed, together with a continuation of what I call community-style policing.
The results of community-style policing can already be seen in Brixton. The police tell me that there is little or no tension in that very sensitive area. That is quite different from the position several years ago. I am told that burglaries are down on last year, that auto-thefts are down on last year and that street robberies are 40 per cent. down over the last two years. However, drugs are still very much a problem. That is because successful drug dealers make money from them and because drugs unfortunately provide them with power and status in the local community. This leads to murder, shootings and all sorts of difficulties.
The position is also improving in Streatham. We have the difficulty of prostitution and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, who was here a moment ago, kindly answered my recent Adjournment debate on that, so I shall not talk about prostitution now. Street robbery, or what we may call muggings with violence, is falling. The numbers are still much too high, but at least they are falling. The chief superintendent in Streatham is greatly worried about the type of weapons used. In February there were 15 attacks, involving 12 knives, a baseball bat, a hand gun and an air pistol. At least the use of knives has fallen and, as far as we can tell, is continuing to fall.
There is great anxiety about gratuitous violence, which is often drink related. It is the type of violence that we see at football matches. Incidentally, I welcome the introduction of identity cards for club members. Drink-related, gratuitous violence does not seem to be consequent upon the relaxation of drinking hours during the morning. It usually takes place late at night after the pubs shut. Those involved are usually young men between the ages of 17 and 26. Another worrying aspect that may appear trivial, but is certainly not trivial to those involved, is the increasing number of attacks on the top deck of buses that go through my constituency late at night. They have become prevalent on four routes. I must ask the Minister, and I shall ask London Buses, why we cannot have video recorders on top decks filming the occupants and a notice saying that a recorder is in action. That would do much to reduce that unpleasant problem. The victims of those various attacks are mainly schoolboys between 10 and 16 and women between 16 and 30. In the past month there have been only four attacks on people over 60. That means not that youngsters and women are the chosen victims, but that elderly people are not prepared to go out at night because of lawlessness. Burglaries are decreasing in Streatham. There were 369 in December compared with 247 in February. The fall is due to a big effort by the police after Christmas which produced extraordinarily good results. Between 20 January and 19 February 23 officers were put in a special burglary squad. They made 62 arrests and cleared up more than 100 offences. That is excellent. A major problem is that it is difficult to apprehend villians. Autocrime is at a consistent level. The drug problem seems to be slightly more under control. In 1977 there were fewer than 100 arrests and in 1978 there were only 60 arrests for possession.
The excellent chief superintendent tells me that he feels like a juggler keeping balls in the air all the time, catching
Column 1178this one here and that one there. As problems arise he has to switch his forces to cope with them and he cannot give the service wanted on all sides all the time. His force is more or less at full complement, which is a great credit to the Home Office. However, he has suggested, and I entirely agree, that more thought and resources should be diverted to stop youngsters offending. He has been doing precisely that, and I congratulate him.
Last August, the Streatham police, led by Roger Street, launched the Gipsy Hill initiative. The police borrowed or rented a hall and encouraged youngsters from problem estates to come to meetings at which the police played and talked with them. Activities ranged from volleyball to talks on how to look after pets. The police took them in a bus to Crystal Palace, where they practised archery and football. Four hundred youngsters were involved in the initiative and, as a result, there was a significant decrease in crime in the area compared with the rest of the division.
The cry will go up : "Who paid for the scheme?" It was paid for by local businesses and charities who contributed some £4,000. In the last few days the police have sent out 200 letters to local businesses so that the initiative may be repeated this year. It is to be called "South Lambeth Summer Capers." A committee of members of the community and the police has been formed to raise money which will be allocated to this year's community and police projects. I regret that Lambeth council did not see its way to collaborating with us. To what extent are other police forces throughout the country kept informed of initiatives that take place in other areas? Mr. John Patten In the Home Office, we do our best to transfer information about excellent schemes such as that in Lambeth. I hope that my hon. Friend will pass on the congratulations of the Home Office to the police in that division. Counties such as Staffordshire have set up schemes, and we try to ensure that police authorities learn what is going on in different parts of the country. My hon. Friend's report to the House is important because it shows the close co-operation between business, the community and the police force. The lack of encouragement of any sort from Lambeth council is disappointing.
Sir William Shelton : My hon. Friend's remarks were reassuring. The police force has an internal news sheet called The Job. I have I have never seen it and I do not know whether it spreads the word about good practices. It is certainly true that any major international company, such as ICI, has an active system to keep each managing director in each country informed about what is happening, what has been tried, and whether it has failed or succeeded. I am delighted to hear that such a system is very much in the minds of Home Office Ministers. I urge my hon. Friend to consider the experience of international companies, although, in the light of his response, I am sure that I do not need to do so.
When more funds are available, it is surely better to use all the resources not to catch offenders but to try to prevent the offences from happening. The small initiative in Lambeth must have the support of us all and I am sure that, over the next 20 years, such initiatives will be the way forward. Our police force should not be continually rushing round putting out fires while spending little or no time on preventing them. I am sure that such initiatives present the way forward and I commend them to the House.
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Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : I welcome the debate on lawlessness which has been initiated by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick). Those of us who know the hon. Gentleman well heard what we anticipated from him--the voice of the Conservative party conference. We clearly heard the engine that drives the Home Secretary and his team of Ministers ; we heard all the prejudices and the gut reactions expressed without reference to the facts or to in-depth investigations of the problem. The hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on the articulate way in which he summed up all the prejudices of the Conservative party on this issue.
I was astonished to hear Conservative Member after Conservative Member failing to refer to the crime statistics since 1979. Usually they are happy to talk about the record of the past 10, five or three years, but, given the facts, I am not surprised that they did not do so this morning. We heard only one or two references to statistics. Let us examine the facts. A Scottish newspaper this morning spoke of the terror of the knife men and the growing nightmare of the violent use of knives in Strathclyde. What has happened in this country since the so-called party of law and order became the Government in 1979? There has been a rising tide of lawlessness. The hard statistics show that, between 1979 and the most recent figures, violence against the person increased by 48 per cent., robbery by 160.8 per cent., burglary by 65.6 per cent., criminal damage and vandalism by 83.8 per cent. and sexual offences by 15.6 per cent. That catalogue of misery for many citizens is presided over by a Government who repeatedly claim on television that they are doing a grand job.
Some people back in 1979 were naive enough to believe that the Conservatives were the party of law and order. Any such pretension now looks hollow after 10 years of decline into lawlessness. It has become increasingly clear as time has gone on that the Government who claimed to be the party of law and order espouse a philosophy, ideology and policy that have brought about the crumbling of law and order of the past 10 years.
The Government's attitudes, values and beliefs are fundamental, because law and order and a safe society are based on certain principles that I want to discuss this morning. The Government have reacted to the incontrovertible evidence of soaring crime by introducing disastrously misconceived policies which have exacerbated, not eased matters.
Let us examine some of these policies. The Government have poured money into the criminal justice system. They have commenced an historic prison building programme as a remedy for lawlessness. Yesterday I visited one of the new prisons near Doncaster. It is an old RAF camp, now housing more than 1,000 men. When it was opened, it was supposed to be for category C and category D prisoners and to take the pressure off the prison system. But every time there has been an expansion of the prison capacity in Britain, the Government have found a way to fill it. They have embarked on a prison-building programme on which they plan to spend £1.25 billion.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) said, we now send more people to prison than any other major western European country--55,729 people as of 1 February this year. The Government used to be able to say that Turkey sent a greater percentage per head of
Column 1180population to prison, but this year, as the Minister will know, even Turkey does not commit as many people to custodial sentences as we do. The recent statement by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders underlines that dramatically. The Government's policy of having more people in prison and more prison capacity goes hand in hand with their policy of stiffer sentencing. That was one of the planks of the 1979 Conservative manifesto which promised tougher sentencing policy, more prisons and more prisoners as a deterrent, but it has not worked and there has been some squirming among Conservative Members.
Today's debate seemed so dismal and the Conservative party seemed to have learnt so little over the years, but it gave us a lift when we heard the brave voice of the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) taking to task the hon. Member for Colne Valley on his facts about the deterrent value of capital punishment. That was a small glimmer of light.
"It is shameful that this country now has a higher proportion of its citizens in prison than any other major West European country. These disturbing figures reinforce the case for a greater use of non-custodial penalties for non-violent offenders."
That is what NACRO said, and more power to its elbow for bringing that to the Government's attention.
The other side of the picture is that the Government's policy has not worked. There are more prisons and they get filled. We have a tougher sentencing policy which does not deter. There has been a massive increase in the prison population and a great increase in crime, criminality and the number of victims affected by crime. The policy has been bankrupt for a long time ; it does not work. But the Government, terrified of the Secretary of State's next appearance at the Tory party conference, plough on with a policy that they know is bankrupt and does not work. The result of high spending and toughness is that, in 10 years, recorded crime has risen by 53 per cent. I am sure that the Minister will grasp at one small straw. Unless I am wrong, or unless he edits it out, the Minister will say that up to June 1988 there had been a 1 per cent. drop in crime. That is a pretty small straw to grasp. Violent crime has still been increasing rapidly. In the past year violence against the person and sex offences have risen by 17 per cent. That is the reality. This morning my hon. Friends talked about the vulnerability of women in society. They are absolutely right. The Government have presided over a doubling in reported cases of rape--we know that sexual offences are under-reported. In 1978, there were 1,243 reported cases, but in 1987 the figure had risen to 2,473. Those figures are a disgrace in a civilised nation, and they should be a disgrace to a Government who pretend to be interested in law and order.
All the evidence shows that violence is all around us. There is violence around football matches, although the proposed system of identity cards will do little about that other than to push violence outside the ground and harm
Column 1181football clubs and decent football supporters and stop them from getting to the games that they want to see. Evidence shows that violence does not take place only in urban areas-- although the Government have ignored the fact that most crime occurs on the large council estates and in inner city areas. There is crime in rural areas, too. It also happens on all forms of public transport. Indeed, it has given us a new vocabulary. Who would have known what a "steamer" or a "lager lout" was a few months ago? That vocabulary is a symptom of the new wave of criminality in our country.
Although the violence is there for all to see, the Government are embarking on a new tack and saying that there is not really much violence or crime in this country, but that the perception or fear of crime is the problem. Indeed, the Government have gone as far as appointing Michael Grade, for whom I have great respect as a television producer and programmer, to head a working party in the Home Office to persuade people that they should not be fearful of crime. It is astounding that the Government are taking one of our top media people--goodness knows what he wants to do it for ; I cannot understand it, but perhaps he is after a knighthood--
Mr. John Patten : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that among the membership of the steering committee that suggested that the fear of crime should be a topic for next year's standing conference on crime prevention is the director of NACRO, Vivien Stern, the chief constable of the Northumbrian constabulary and others from all spheres of interest, not just the Home Office?
Mr. Sheerman : Yes ; I have seen the membership of the committee and I understand that point well. I was not talking about the people who will inject enthusiasm into the working party. I was saying that once again it is the Government's intention to give the impression of doing something about the problem without actually doing anything that would have any effect. The fact is that there is rising lawlessness in this country, and we have a Home Office committee-- [Interruption.] If the Minister of State wants to intervene again, he may do so. We have a Home Office committee that will tell the world that the problem is fear of crime, not the real criminality that is shown by the rising crime statistics.
I bring to the Minister's attention the second phase of the Islington crime survey. The figures for our capital do not show that the problem is people's fear of crime as something distant that will probably not happen to them. The survey showed that the real fear of crime bears a close correlation to violence or criminal activity that has impinged on the person interviewed, a member of his household or his peer group in the past five years. There is a direct correlation. People are not affraid because of fancy things that they have read in the newspapers about muggings ; they are afraid because such crimes have happened to them or to someone in their close circle. That is the fact of living in an inner city today. The Government will not get off the hook on that.
Why is there greater lawlessness in our society? Opposition Members have rehearsed familiar but important arguments and have referred to the fact that poverty and unemployment have risen in the past 10 years, affecting particular groups and causing criminality. Research evidence is available, not from the Tory party conference, but from universities, NACRO, independent
Column 1182foundations and all-party foundations which shows that poverty and unemployment breed criminality. There has been much poverty and unemployment under this Government.
The Government's economic and social policies flow from their ideology. The hon. Member for Colne Valley referred to amateur sociologists. We do not need to be amateurs to consider Conservative party ideology as it emanates from the Prime Minister and from the party generally. Conservatives are not ashamed of their ideology of applauding the notion of the rugged individual entrepreneur in society. That ideology considers the individual to be most important. In his concluding remarks, the hon. Member for Colne Valley referred to the individual. He did not talk about the community, society or group effort ; he referred to the individual. That reveals the core of the Government's misunderstanding of the problems of tackling crime, criminality and lawlessness.
We can solve criminality and lawlessness only by working together as a community and a society and by believing that society is more important than the individual. We must believe that something holds us together which is more important than personal greed, personal selfishness and getting one's own way in the world.
Greed and selfishness are at the heart of the present Conservative ideology. Once that ideology is imposed on society, it breeds crime and criminality like nothing else. People who have nothing are not impervious to that ideology. They want everything yesterday, just like the £100,000-a-year young stockbroker in the City. Because they cannot get it, they commit crime. However, that is a result of the culture produced and underpinned by the Government.
The Government's ideology breeds crime in the deprived inner cities and on large council estates where poverty has increased. It also breeds crime in the rural areas. It breeds crime among unemployed young people and also among young people who are in employment and are at the bottom end of the wage scale. The notion of an envious society and the widening gap between incomes breeds discontent which often leads to crime.
Very little activity is provided for young people in so many areas. Some hon. Members today referred to ways to stop crime before it occurs. The Government seem to be obsessed with catching criminals. The Opposition are far more interested in preventing criminality in the first place. The Government have done precious little about the growing area of criminality among our young people.
More enlightened Governments have acted quickly. For example, the French Government witnessed a rising tide of criminality, urban disturbances and riots in major cities. They implemented a major programme to allow young people proper access to productive leisure of all kinds. Unfortunately, those large programmes meant real resources from central Government. However, the French Government acted and already they are getting very good results and are reducing crime among young French people.
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : The hon. Gentleman has referred to acquisitiveness and its effect on young people. There may be a degree of truth in what he says. On the other hand, we must also consider, as the hon. Gentleman was beginning to imply, the question of individual responsibility, which is learnt when one is very young. Will
Column 1183he consider the problem caused by many schools in areas run by Labour local authorities where the police have been discouraged from working with the schools?
Mr. Sheerman : It is a very tiny minority of authorities that have banned police from schools. I do not approve of that, and nor does the Labour party. Of course, Labour local authorities have a democratic right to make their decisions, but that is not the official Labour party line. We believe that a partnership in the town, in the vilage and in the city between local authorities, the police, local businesses, voluntary groups and the resident associations is the kernel of getting a safer community.
In so many of the areas that I have been considering in the past few minutes few leisure activities are provided for young people. We have seen time and again that one of the ways into criminality and crime is the abuse of alcohol and, indeed, drugs. Many
underprivileged young people who do not have constructive alternatives drift into the use of alcohol. I do not approve of that, but it is a known fact that they drift into heavy drinking, drug taking and solvent abuse and, to keep the habit going, they drift into crime. That is a sad state of affairs. That is why I intervened to say that we should have creative alternatives for young people. Of course, I want to stop young people drinking before they are 18--that is the law. It is a good law and one which we should take seriously. On the other hand, I believe that we should make creative alternatives.
Young people in my town say to me, "What is there but the pub?" What is provided for young people over 15 years? There is very little when one considers the matter. So much of our community has closed down. How many churches have closed down? People of my generation went to youth clubs and found them quite enjoyable, but they do no longer exist. Little is provided so that young people may spend their leisure time in a creative and interesting way, especially in areas of greatest urban stress.
What Government policies have there been to enhance realistic attractive leisure activities? The Government have taken £20 billion from the rate support grant. They are starving local government of any initiative of this sort. The Government are even moving towards the selling off of leisure centres to private operators. Private operators will not provide the sort of low-cost deals for young people that we want to encourage.
The Minister knows that the peak age for offenders of both sexes is 15 years. One half of all recorded offences and three quarters of all recorded burglaries are committed by young people under 21. The relationship between youth and criminality is staring the Government in the face. All they have come up with over the past 10 years is the short, sharp shock--and what a disaster that was.
France has a positive policy. It is spending money. It has a commitment to do something about a perceived problem. At the heart of the problem in this country is the individualistic philosophy of the Government--the "me" society that wants everything yesterday. That leads to the rejection of society and of the community and, ironically, to the rejection of the family. There is only one concept in Tory philosophy today, and that is the individual. The Opposition believe that that is the core of the problem of lawlessness today, because the foundations of a lawful society have always rested on the community and society working together.
Column 1184The Minister will say that, typically, the hon. Member for Huddersfield has not said what his party would do. I shall tell him what we would do. The answer for those of us who yearn for a return to a lawful and safe society lies in a rejection of a selfish society and its values and a reversal of the Government's key policies that stem from it. Of course, we shall have to wait until the next general election to get it. We have started, however, in our efforts to achieve that reversal.
We must recognise that the Government's criminal justice policy has got it wrong. There are alternatives. Vast sums of money have been spent on dealing with the problem after the offence has been committed, on prison building and on imposing stiffer sentences. That has been done at a high cost to the taxpayer who is faced with a poor return. We believe that we should concentrate on the prevention of crime. The Government are involved in some crime prevention, but their efforts and the expenditure on it are pitifully small. The Government have taken £20 billion of rate support grant away from our impoverished towns and cities, but at the same time--it is reported in The Guardian today--the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has responsibility for the inner cities, has announced
"the extension of the Home Office's Safer Cities crime prevention scheme to the Wirral and Hull"
That is all well and good, but that scheme means the expenditure of £250,000 and a lot of publicity. That money will convert the entrances to about five blocks of flats--that is how far the Government's commitment goes towards safer cities.
We believe that the Government have got themselves into a terrible twist, because the only way to tackle lawlessness is to work with local government. I note that the Minister curls his lip, but that is the truth. The Government have a pathological hatred of local democracy and therefore they are unable to use society's most effective weapon against lawlessness- -a democratically organised and supported community. The Government do not believe in that, and for the past 10 years they have waged outright war against local democracy.
We believe that, if crime prevention and safer communities are to mean anything, there must be a partnership based on democratic consent between local councils, the police, neighbourhood and resident associations and local businesses. That partnership, based on democratic leadership, is the way forward, but the Government will not accept that.
Local councils must have a prime role as they could provide valuable leadership in so many areas. They could provide sensible housing management policies, home security policies and better street lighting. They could improve neighbourhood estate management and set up crime prevention community safety committees. They could raise the awareness of their staff about crime and improve staff training. They could develop crime monitoring schemes and introduce crime audits. They could raise public awareness and introduce minimum standards of security for all their properties. They could address the particular needs of groups who are vulnerable to crime. They could influence public transport policies and assist low-income owner- occupiers to secure their homes properly. They could improve recreational and youth provision. If the Government gave the resources and the backing to local government, it could get on with those
Column 1185exciting things. My goodness, we could do something about lawlessness if the Government would throw off their prejudice against local government and give local democracy a chance to work. If local democracy was given a chance, the great bonus would be that there would be no need for vigilantes or for residents taking the law into their own hands. We are, of course, in favour of neighbourhood watch, which is a good thing, and of residents taking an active interest in the security of their neighbourhood. But at the end of the day there must be a proper chain of responsibility, and that is why so many of us are worried about the importation of vigilantes and the growth of that mentality. We are worried about the proliferation of private security facilities. That problem is increasing because the Government have allowed it to grow unsupervised and disaster is looming.
If local government is involved in the fight against crime, a chain of responsibility is provided which makes sense and brings order to disorder. The essential thrust of my remarks is that that involves local democratic leadership and public expenditure. The Government will not countenance those two matters.
We need real action, not the illusion of activity. If there is anything in the epitaph of Conservative government over the past 10 years it will be that they were masters of creating the illusion of activity without actually doing anything. We need real action, but that costs money which has to come from taxpayers and ratepayers. We believe that people are willing to pay for a safer society, but we do not expect to persuade the Government about that.
Mrs. Wise : Before my hon. Friend leaves the issue of local democracy and the importance of local government, may I ask him whether he agrees that if we had better street lighting and better public transport it would be easier for people in general and women in particular to get out and about at night? Going out to meetings and other such democratic participation keeps democracy alive, whereas at the moment there is almost a self-imposed curfew and people stay in their own little boxes and become more and more afraid.
Mr. Sheerman : My hon. Friend is right. Those of us who travel in London have seen over the last 10 years during which I have been in the House a steady decline in security on public transport. That is because for 10 years the Government have exerted pressure on public expenditure. That is why we never see a member of London Regional Transport staff on platforms or in the trains. They used to be there for security purposes, but that is no longer the case. We all know that their absence leads to tragedies. Such people can stop crime on the tubes and buses. What Government would have thought of taking the conductor off the traditional London bus? He prevented clogging of the system and was a means of protecting the citizen. Why have we not had ministerial activity to stop the ridiculous policy of one-man buses?
Mr. Bowis : I agree with the hon. Gentleman about increasing security on public transport. He said that we have too many custodial sentences and his policy appears to be not to have so many people in prison. What would he do with all the people who are arrested for violent crimes? Will the women of London who wish to travel at night feel more secure when they know that Labour party policy is to put violent people back on the streets?
Mr. Sheerman : The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting matter with which I propose to deal later. We want to prevent crime, because if that can be done fewer people will need to be sentenced. We want a sentencing commission and a proper attitude to sentencing. Most of the people in our prisons are not violent criminals. They have not been involved with drugs and are not sex offenders. Only about 18,000 people have been convicted of such offences and many of the other 55,000 should not be serving custodial sentences. They are in prison for non-payment of fines and other such trivial offences. Women have been snatched from their families before Christmas and we have seen two-week-old children snatched from their mothers' arms so that the mothers could be sent down for Christmas. That is not the sort of society that we want, but it is the sort that we have under this Government. The examples that I have given occurred in London in December.
The majority of people in prison are not violent criminals, nor, as I have said, were they involved in drugs or sex crimes. Many people outside Britain misunderstand that, and the Conservative party and the Government mislead people. Mr. Michael Grade is an honourable man and he and Vivien Stern should demand a broadening of the terms of reference so that people may have real information about the fear of crime. Such fear can be exaggerated and it frightens some old people. Let us tell people the truth about why people are sent to prison and about what life is like in our ghastly prisons. Let us expand the remit of the Home Office advisory committee on the fear of crime. The Government do not want to admit the close correlation between reductions in public spending and increased lawlessness. That link was not mentioned in the speech of the hon. Member for Colne Valley. Every day people can see on the tube and on other public transport that lack of staff leads to disorderly conduct and the lawlessness that we all want to stop. We know that the vulnerability of the public increases the more that one ceases to pay for good public services. Good street lighting and other services, properly designed communities and good housing cost money, but they are much more effective than a good press release or television advertising. I reiterate that we must give close scrutiny to the question of youth criminality and base our policies and answers on facts, not emotions. If one listens perceptively, one finds that good arguments come from both sides of the House. Government action should be based not on emotion, not on the latest spasm at the Tory party conference, but on facts. There are many experts around who know the answers--but the answers are complex, and the Government too often go for the quick fix, the gimmick, which they can sell to the public but which does not achieve anything. This morning we saw paraded the ultimate quick fix of capital punishment.
If policies are to succeed, they must have the consent of local people, which is something that the Government do not understand. If one is to achieve a lawful and safe society, one must involve local people in the community through democratic procedures. Tougher sentencing and a higher prison population have been shown not to work. That is not surprising because, according to the Carlisle report, only 7 per cent. at most of offences reach the courts. Of those who are in prison, 60 per cent. reoffend within two years. One must draw the conclusion that Government policies of the past 10 years and the
Column 1187philosophies from which those policies spring must be rejected. Policies must be based instead on specific changes to the criminal justice system that will be known to work.
Neither the Home Secretary nor the Prime Minister needs to wear a red nose today to look ridiculous, because their policies for ensuring protection of the citizen and safety on our streets and in our cities are ridiculous in themselves. Tragically, the real victims of their policies are the victims of crime, those disturbed by the prospect of crime who live in fear, and, last but not least, the criminals whose lives are distorted and ruined by the crimes that they commit.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who, as always, put his points forcefully and clearly. There is some agreement between us, particularly on the importance of preventing young people from falling into criminal activity. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Sir W. Shelton) gave the wonderful example of a local scheme that is doing just that. However, there is much that separates the hon. Member for Huddersfield and myself--notably, his great concern for the offender. We should all be concerned about offenders, but the hon. Gentleman demonstrated precious little concern for their victims, which is characteristic of most speeches of the past decade made by Labour Front Bench spokesmen.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) on having given the House an opportunity to debate a subject of widespread concern. There is no one with whom I would rather spend a Friday morning in the House debating lawlessness. I am grateful to him for making it possible for me to participate. His speech will bear careful reading by us in the Home Office and by everyone who is interested in law and order. We also heard some notable speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind), for Basildon (Mr. Amess)-- he reminded us of the "I love Basildon" campaign--and for Streatham.
I hope that all hon. Members believe that in this country we are and should remain subject to the rule of law. Our laws are made by Parliament or have evolved over centuries in our independent courts. I wonder what those independent courts think of the Labour pledges that we have heard today to introduce a sentencing commission. The Labour party is now beginning to say what it is going to do, which takes us into some interesting territory. Intervening in the independence of the courts is clearly one of the things that the new Labour party wants to do.
Our laws exist to ensure that we can go about our lawful business. We are all subject to the law and, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said recently, we cannot choose to obey some laws but disobey others--a line that did not strike a resonant chord with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), to whose disgraceful speech I shall return. It is against the background of the rule of law that individual freedom and parliamentary democracy have developed.
Column 1188As has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley and others on both sides of the House, hon. Members and members of the public are rightly concerned at the decline in standards over the past three or four decades. There seems to be less respect for the law and for lawful authority ; there is more indiscipline and violence. We see the manifestations all around us. The smashed park bench, the graffiti on public buildings, the stench in public subways and the state of the lifts in high-rise blocks are all stark evidence of a change in individual attitudes to self-discipline.
I do not think that a few years ago we lived in a golden age ; I am sure that 50 years ago young men got drunk on Saturday night and brawled in the streets and market squares. No doubt they did so 500 years ago, and will do so in 50 years' time. But the knife culture of some of London's streets was yet to be born 50 years ago. Violent crime, like crime in general, has been rising for more than three decades under Governments of both political colours, in times of high and low unemployment, of prosperity and economic difficulty, of feast and famine. If we are to understand why crime has risen, some deep analysis is necessary.
I certainly agree that the fear of violence can have a corrosive effect on people's lives, especially in our large cities, and no politician can be complacent while people fear crime. That is why I was so interested to hear the hon. Member for Huddersfield say--and it will be in the Official Report for us to read on Monday--that he appreciated that from time to time individuals' fear of crime was much greater than the reality. I agree with him. Often, however, the fear outruns the danger.
The Home Office research and planning unit is an independent body which produces research of worldwide standards, universally praised. Its findings do not always make comfortable reading for the Government of the day, but such work is rightly praised by Vivien Stern of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. Some new research from the unit tells us that, for example, while one third of women over 60 say that they feel very unsafe to go out at night, only 0.5 per cent. have experienced any sort of street crime in the last year for which we have records.
In general, the fear of becoming a victim of crime tends to increase with age, while the actual chance of becoming a victim of crime diminishes very sharply with age. I say that not to attempt to divert public opinion and debate from the central core of what we are seeking to do, which is to turn back the tide of crime of the last three decades, but to point to an additional aspect that needs to be considered and which the hon. Member for Huddersfield generously recognised--that sometimes the fear of crime can outweigh the actuality of crime.
Mr. Sheerman : To put my remarks in context--I want them to be regarded not as prejudiced but as balanced remarks--the Islington crime survey, an independent survey, suggests that the fear of crime is linked to real experience. Even on the figures that the Minister has just quoted, in any community there is a one in 200 chance of knowing someone or of being someone who has been the victim of crime. I was saying that we do not need yet another Government campaign to try to take people's eyes off the fact that violent crime is on the increase by suggesting that there is no reality to their fears.
When I visited Leeds, not Huddersfied, last Wednesday, the soon-to-retire chief constable of the West Yorkshire constabulary, Colin Sampson, said in a speech that he felt that the most important task facing us today is to transfer the fear of crime, whether real or false, from the innocent to the people who might be tempted to become criminals. The chief constable's remarks should be remembered by us all. We must transfer the fear from the threatened to the threatener. That is why we need to obtain the fullest possible view of the reality of crime. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Huddersfield decided to launch an attack on Mr. Michael Grade and those who support the new inquiry into the fear of crime. When he reads what he said in Hansard --it may also be reported by some newspapers--he may be rather ashamed.
Just as there is a relationship between the actuality of crime and the fear of crime, so also is there a relationship between the media and the fear of crime. Those who are listening to the debate can rest easy ; I am not about to mount an attack on the media. It would be wrong as well as fruitless to suggest that the media should not report violent crime. Part of the positive duty of the broadcasting and written media in this country is to report violent crime and to bring home the facts. It is also important that, from time to time, violence should be portrayed in television drama, because violence is part of everyday life.
However, alongside reports of the rise in crime or of violence in television drama, I should like to see stories on television and in the newspapers of estates that were previously ridden with crime pulling themselves together by means of active tenants' associations. I should like to hear about improvements in design, about neighbourhood watch schemes that are leading to a reduction in the crime rate and street violence and about the efforts being made by the police to deploy their forces more effectively. It is up to us all to ensure that we supply good news to the media so that the media can decide independently, with their editorial freedom, whether they want to promote it.
We must also show the public that it is false to think that, inevitably and irresistibly, crime is on the increase. It would be wrong if people shaped their lives on a false premise. Equally, while it is right for violence to be portrayed in the media and in television drama, I sometimes wish that producers would show us the consequences of violent acts. Often they show us the violent acts and the knife or gun. I watch some television, particularly at the weekends, and it is rare to see the consequences of the violent action portrayed.
Mr. Patten : I do not want to go into Dirty Den. I must be one of the few people in the House never to have watched "EastEnders", and I do not intend to break my record. I understand that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, may have similar good taste and the whole House recognises it.
It is critical for part of the story line sometimes to be about how awful it is to be stabbed or in a wheelchair for the rest of one's life. It is important to take the audience
Column 1190into the minds of the grieving parents or the sorrowing wife or husband. I hope that there can be all-party agreement at least on that.
Mr. Sheerman : I should like to agree, Dirty Den notwithstanding, but the American presidential commission on violence and the media, which must be 15 or 18 years old by now, claimed that when the great director, Sam Peckinpah, depicted violence horrifically in "The Wild Bunch" and other Westerns, it was the greatest stimulant to emulation, rather than the type of violence that the Minister is describing. I urge a little caution and more thought about whether gory details of the results of a shooting or stabbing would have the effect that he suggests. I can understand the thrust of the emotional response, but I do not think that scientific work would back him up.
Mr. Patten : I was not suggesting that we show gory details. I have rather a weak stomach for such portrayals on screen. I was saying that the consequences of grief and human suffering can make just as good drama as the gory details of the actions. Mr. Grade and his committee will have a chance to look at these issues and to report back on them in December, and we wish that committee well. The problems cannot be solved by the Government alone. My hon. Friends the Members for Colne Valley and for Basildon and others referred to the fact that the presence of more police officers on our streets helps to reassure people. That is why the Government have increased police manpower and there are 13,500 more police in England and Wales and more than 7,600 civilian staff now than in 1979. A further 1,100 police are to come in 1989-90.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern about the potential growth--it is hardly there--of vigilantism and the Guardian Angels. We want the public to support the police. They do that in neighbourhood watch schemes and crime prevention panels. We want them to be the eyes and ears of the police. If they wish to give practical support, and be the arms and legs of the police, they should join the special constables. We are in favour of active citizens becoming special constables. We do not approve of private forces roaming the country on underground railways or elsewhere. Several hon. Members have shown their interest in being special constables. For many years, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) was a special constable, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) the Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State for the Home Department, until he had to put on plain clothes in the Government Whips Office later in his career.
Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend is now putting the excellent experience that he gained as a special constable on the streets of the capital to good use as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. He is the only one of us in the Home Office who can speak with certainty about what it is like to put a hand on the shoulder and take someone down to the station. We are a deeply experienced Government.
The roots of crime, which the police and the special constables who help them, have to deal with begin with the young. My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley