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Column 1191suggested, in his complex and interesting remarks, that the media, schools, Churches and, in particular, families, had a special responsibility to prevent youngsters from offending. I agree but I remind him of the powers that the courts already have to make parents responsible for their children, which was one of the themes of his speech.
First, when juveniles--those under 17--are charged, their parents can be required to attend court, which is good because they will be confronted with the fact that their children have offended and with the consequences of that. Secondly, if children are convicted, their parents can be required by the court to pay the fines, costs or compensation which are imposed on their children. Thirdly, although, rightly, children under 10 in this country cannot be prosecuted for criminal offences, juveniles can be taken to court for care proceedings, when there are grounds for doing so. One such ground is when the child is beyond the care of his or her parents.
It is clear that a formidable range of powers already exist and we should make fuller use of them to make parents face up to their responsibilities. For example, in 1987, only about 20 to 25 per cent. of parents were ordered to pay their children's fines. It is essential that courts should use that and other powers more extensively. The Government are considering whether there are other ways in which parents can be encouraged to take their
responsibilities more seriously and to be more effective in carrying them out--I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley is very concerned about that. This is a difficult matter which involves personal freedom and complex issues but, if we wish to reduce crime, it is crucial to pay special attention to it.
In particular, it is important to do all that we can to divert young people from crime. That is why I was very pleased to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham said about what was happening in Lambeth, where local businesses, the community, the police and the voluntary sector were all putting their hands in their pockets, their organisational abilities to the plough and their time to the needs of children by producing schemes to divert youngsters from crime. I was shocked at Lambeth council's refusal to support those efforts. If the hon. Member for Huddersfield is so keen on facts and says that only a few Labour councils do not support such activities, he has only to go two and half miles down the road to Lambeth town hall to persuade the brothers and sisters to support them. He will be allowed on the premises--unlike the police who, until recently, were not allowed on council property without the permission of the local authority.
Mr. Sheerman : Like other hon. Members, I like to check my facts before I make a statement about any council. Why have hon. Members and the Minister constantly picked on one particular authority which is carrying out activities that they do not like? What about the dozens of Labour authorities that want to participate in the safer cities schemes and have been waiting for months to hear whether they have been chosen? Of those chosen, there is a distinct bias towards Conservative-held cities rather than Labour-held ones.
Column 1192cities schemes and described them as some sort of gimmick, but he now says that he wants Labour councils up and down the land to have them. A week or 10 days ago I received a generous letter from the Labour leader of Hull council saying how delighted he was that a safer cities scheme was to be operated there, as these schemes were beginning to work extremely well in Labour-controlled areas such as Wolverhampton, Nottingham, Coventry, Birmingham and a host of others.
I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House--as the hon. Member for Huddersfield did. We want children to grow up respecting the law. It was clear to me that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East does not particularly want children to grow up respecting the law. He stood in this Chamber, in which the laws of the land are made, and encouraged lawlessness. I note that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government is on the Front Bench to hear my remarks.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East hinted that there should be what he termed civil disobedience--in other words, breaking of the law--and that committees of 100 should be formed all over the country to enable people not to pay the community charge when it falls due. He seemed to offer himself as a leader of this great national movement. Because his speech was a little unclear, I intervened in it for the sake of greater clarity, and the hon. Gentleman agreeably and decently gave way. I asked him whether he thought that people should break the law, and whether he was going to break it. He answered, "Yes" to both questions.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield speaks with the full authority of a Labour Front Bench spokesman. He is extremely honest and always talks straight in the Chamber. Today, he must tell us whether it is official Labour party policy to promote lawlessness by non-payment of the community charge. If he says that it is not, I hope that he will make it clear to his hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East that he condemns his stance.
Mr. Sheerman : The Minister knows very well what the Labour party view of non-payment of the poll tax is : we believe that citizens should remain within the law. I was not in the Chamber when my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East ( Mr. Barnes) spoke, so I cannot comment on what he said.
Mr. Sheerman : We are not a Gestapo in the Labour party. We are a democratic party in which members express their opinions. My hon. Friend can make his own view clear if the Minister gives way to him.
Mr. Patten : The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. I have never heard such a pathetic performance by a Labour Front Bench spokesman in all my 10 years in this place. The hon. Member for Huddersfield shows no care or consideration for what the general public want, which is high standards of public leadership from both parties. They want the law to be obeyed--
Mr. Harry Barnes rose --
Mr. Harry Barnes : The Minister's remarks to the effect that I was inciting young people to lawlessness were a disgrace. I am not involved in forcing young people into difficult circumstances. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise), I serve on the Standing Committee examining the Employment Bill. We have been trying in that Committee to protect 16 to 18-year-olds who are being attacked by having protection removed from them.
I tried very carefully to explain my non-payment of the poll tax, and my willingness to associate with people who, having thought about it carefully, were prepared to take action together. I deliberately said that mass non-payment would cause problems as it would place certain people in difficulty. However, I have respect for people who believe that the poll tax is so unjust that mass non-payment is a possibility, just as I have respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, (Mr. Sheerman) who wants to fight against it entirely within the legal system. There are differences over what should be done about it, but there is no dispute about the obnoxious nature of the legislation. I was stressing that it is democratically and constitutionally unjust and therefore it might be possible to use acts of civil disobedience in the Gandhian tradition against it.
Mr. Patten : It is pushing analogy a bit far to suggest that the hon. Gentleman and Gandhi could bat in the same league. But I respect the hon. Gentleman, who always makes his views known. He is now on record as thinking that the law should be broken. He is doubtless one of a number of would-be martyrs who will spring up all over the Opposition Benches when the community charge is in operation for the first time, who represent not the loony Left, but the law-breaking Left who do not wish to obey the laws in this country.
Lambeth has been mentioned a great deal in the debate. It would be wrong not to reply to a debate, and I have always done so, so I shall say something about Lambeth. I recently received an object lesson in the effects that local authorities can have on crime. The hon. Member for Huddersfield said that we should get together with local authorities and use them as a vehicle for crime prevention. I co-operate happily with Labour authorities, with hung authorities and with Conservative authorities throughout the country and provide money for crime prevention.
Thanks to a kind invitation, I was taken to visit tower blocks in two randomly chosen boroughs--Lambeth and Wandsworth. The comparison was extremely interesting. They are two or three miles away from the House and separated by only a couple of miles. Both are inner city boroughs with a similar social profile and flow of incomes from central Government and from their rate base, yet the contrast in the contribution that a local authority can make to fighting lawlessness was startling, as my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham pointed out.
In Lambeth I visited a tower block where the tenants told me that they feared burglary and vandalism, and where police figures show that in 1988 one in 10 residents was burgled--a shameful record. There was no control over who was allowed to enter the buildings, there were no entry phones, no caretakers and no care for the tenants. The tenants told me that they never saw local councillors.
Column 1194It made me laugh--but the laughter was pretty hollow--that there was no lighting on the back stairs of the fire exit because there were no light bulbs. I asked, "Where are the light bulbs?", and the tenants replied that they had rung Lambeth town hall that week and had been told, "There are no light bulbs in Lambeth". I have heard of light bulb free zones, but it is an absurd suggestion that a council cannot provide its tenants with adequate lighting.
Lambeth is the most classic case and the closest example to the Palace of Westminster of a local authority which cannot run its own housing or clean its own borough. Its inability to deal with litter has made Lambeth one of the urban dustbins of western Europe. How different it is in Wandsworth, which has a similar social profile, a similar flow of income into the borough, and, until three years ago, had a similar crime profile. I was pleased to see entry phones in the tower blocks in Wandsworth, and housing patrols to watch out for trouble makers on the council estates. There were also the improvements in street lighting that the hon. Member for Huddersfield wanted. There is also a Crimewatch scheme in Wandsworth which pulls together the crime prevention efforts of the different council departments. Wandsworth makes effective use of ratepayers' funds and national taxation. So, before Opposition Members lecture us on the need to fight crime or to co-operate with local authorities, they should have a word with Lambeth.
Mrs. Wise rose --
My penultimate point relates to crime figures. The hon. Member for Huddersfield used grossly inadequate statistics about recent changes in the crime rate. In the first three quarters of 1988, there were considerable falls in crime. Instead of using his outdated figures, the hon. Gentleman should have said that in the 12 months to the end of September last year, there was a 3 per cent. fall in recorded crime generally, and falls in recorded crime in all the metropolitan areas. Merseyside, for example, saw a considerable fall of 10 per cent. and Greater Manchester, which is not far from where the hon. Member for Huddersfield lives, had a fall of 6 per cent.
We are pursuing vigorously our policies to combat crime and to protect our citizens, but we are not helped by the Labour party's official policy. When I first became a Member in 1979, in our first period of office, we were told by the Labour party that unemployment caused crime. What an insult that was to law-abiding unemployed people in this country. That point was repeated again this morning-- [Interruption.] Well, "unemployment" was the word that the hon. Member for Huddersfield used. In our second term, we were told that affluence somehow caused crime. I know what the next argument will be. When we see what I hope we shall all see--a continuing fall in crime--I expect that we shall be told that the reduction in the number of young people is causing that fall in crime, but that is not the case either.
The Labour party's analysis of crime is consistent only with its naivety. Instead of the schoolroom sociology that we have heard from the Opposition, they should have listened to the close analysis of the subject by my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley, who opened the
Column 1195debate so excellently by directing the attention of the House to the root causes of crime. The Opposition should have listened more closely to my hon. Friend, whom I congratulate on initiating the debate.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : The Minister said that when he became a Member he had one view about crime but that he now has a different one. I remind him that when the Prime Minister came to power in 1979, as well as saying that Labour was not working, when just over 1 million people were on the dole, she said that a main feature of her campaign was to clear up crime. I remember a phrase trotted out by the Prime Minister and the deputy Prime Minister at the time. They spoke about introducing a "short sharp shock". We do not hear a great deal about that now. The offenders were going to be put inside, with the result that crime would fall dramatically under the new, never-had-it-so-good materialism of the Prime Minister. I am curious about why the Minister did not refer to the short sharp shock. Did it not work? After a short time the Government realised that it was just a slogan, like so many other things. It was a palliative which meant nothing. Now the Government have come up with another. It is called "electronic tagging". That is how the Government say that they will resolve the problem of lawlessness. We all know how that was invented. When Mark Thatcher got lost in the desert, somebody said, "Here's a good idea. We'll tag the offenders." The Government then dropped the idea of the short sharp shock and moved on to electronic tagging. They must now wish that they had put two on the mouth of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie). Such things are only slogans.
Today another Tory Back Bencher has come along trying to impress the Prime Minister so that when she has a reshuffle in the autumn he might take the Minister of State's job because the Minister has probably not been as dry as he should have been. The Prime Minister did not give any special favours to the Minister of State such as she gave the other night to the Secretary of State for the Environment who is one of the driest members of the Cabinet.
We will have such debates from time to time and the Government will still slag off local authorities. I am informed that in Derbyshire, as a result of the rate support grant being withheld and grant capping, despite all the efforts of the county council, the authority has been deprived of £15 million for the police. The authority's police bill is £15 million short as a result of the Government's attacks on that county council. I believe that the same attacks have been made on many other shire counties.
Not content with that, the Government have told the Police Federation, "Oh, by the way, we are going to take some of your jobs away. We are going to dilute the police force. We are going to allow certain sections to be privatised. We are going to change the system whereby people are on remand. We are going to use Avis rental cars instead of the police to bring prisoners in." No doubt the Government will also use Trusthouse Forte to provide the meals and will use the Guardian Angels to look after people on the Underground. It is no wonder that the Police
Column 1196Federation is fed up to the back teeth with the Government with all their slogans and promises over the past 10 years. In the face of all that, there is this motion on the Order Paper about lawlessness. This debate implies that during the past 10 years under this Government and various Conservative Home Secretaries, somehow lawlessness has not been cleared up. Is there any wonder that the fabric of this Government is beginning to crack? Many of the Tory party's supporters in the media are now writing hostile editorials about the Prime Minister and about the end of this Government. If the Minister of State is worried about anything at all, he should not have attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) about the poll tax. If he had any guts, instead of crawling to the Prime Minister, he would say to her, "Why don't you drop that poll tax, because we're going to lose votes? Why don't you drop water privatisation and one or two more of those things?" Instead, the Minister comes to the Chamber and trots out the usual parrot fashion stuff about Left-wing councils in and around London and elsewhere.
Mr. Skinner : No. The hon. Gentleman will be able to wind up, so I am told, if there is any time left, That is the usual practice. He will be able to have his say. I believe that the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) also wants to speak.
Apart from the short sharp shock, when the Conservative party came to power, they also promised to set the people free. More prisoners have escaped and there have been more prison officer strikes under this Government than in the whole of my time in politics at this level or in local government. I have never known so many break-outs. Half a dozen films could be made every year based on the different plots and ruses for prison break-outs.
All this has happened under a Government who talk about lawlessness while we understand from books, some written by Tory Back Benchers, that spies have been engaged in breaking and entering for donkeys' years. In the Bill to reform the Official Secrets Act 1911 which the Government are trying to get through the House, the Government will legalise such actions. People will be able to do it willy-nilly and there will be no protection against it.
The Government have done nothing about City fraud. Some people may make £10 from social security while an army of inspectors is hounding women who are supposed to have been cohabiting. An army of inspectors is trying to round up those people, but what are the Government doing about the City of London, the Lloyd's insurance market, insider trading and insider dealing? They are doing very little.
The Minister did not mention fraud in the City of London. We have heard nothing about the fact that just over five years ago Peter Cameron-Webb and his mate Peter Dixon defrauded the insurance market of £40 million. That is well known to hon. Members on both sides of the House and I have not picked that figure out of the blue. I am not talking about someone who has pinched a tin of pilchards from Marks and Spencers. I am talking about massive crime.
What happened to Cameron-Webb and Dixon? They went to America and no one felt their collars, not even the
Column 1197Minister who was a special constable. Why did they not send him over? Nobody went. They got away with 40 million quid. The Government have the cheek to lecture Labour authorities about lawlessness. I am not prepared to take it from the Government when those people have got away with it. What is the Tory Attorney-General saying about it? He has said that we cannot extradite them because they have been in America for more than five years. The Government talk about extraditing Paddy Ryan, when there are those people who have made money hand over fist. Every time we pick up the Financial Times we can see fraud oozing out of its pages.
Then, of course, there is the more topical subject--the Common Market fraud. When the House of Lord's Committee gets together from the sleepy den down the road and uncovers £6,000 million of fraud, we know that something is wrong. Those people have managed to find £6 billion of fraud. It is in all the papers today. It is in the Wapping press--the press that has backed the Prime Minister through thick and thin in the past 10 years. It now says :
"Governments blamed for failure over EEC frauds."
The report cites lack of exchange of information, insufficient powers to pursue fraud, few prosecutions, lack of proper auditing and administration and lack of publicity. All those lorries are going backwards and forwards over the Northern Ireland border and the cattle are following them. A report in one of the papers said that the cattle had now been driven over the border between Northern and Southern Ireland so often that they knew the way themselves. Every time they go over someone makes more money.
Another Tory paper says :
"Pigs and cattle smuggled across the Irish border and re-exported to qualify for refunds invoices for grapes and wine were manipulated and wine strengths were understated."
That must have been Roy Jenkins doctoring the claret.
Then the Government come along with pettifogging little arguments about people who are prepared to stand up for their rights in Britain. They attack people who are trying to undermine the poll tax. When April comes there will probably be half a million people in Scotland who will not pay the poll tax according to information that is coming from somewhere not far from Tory party central office.
I do not want any lectures from Tories about our people. They should not only expose Labour councils. Why do they not start on Westminster city council down the road? That is run by Lady Porter, who sold off three cemeteries at 15p, and now they are valued at well over £3 million. There is no surcharge there. No one has been feeling Lady Porter's collar. The council has now sacked the chief executive and given him a £1 million handout so that he will not spill the beans.
Lawlessness and crime come in all sorts of disguises. The Tory party cannot lecture the Opposition about them, because the very ethos of capitalism is based on pinching
Column 1198money. Throughout the ages workers have been exploited. Industry has not paid wages council rates. Throughout the years the profiteers--the entrepreneurs--have trampled over working-class people, breaking laws left, right and centre. Millions of old-age people and the chronically sick and disabled are unable to have what is due to them--such as a telephone. The law is being broken because the Government will not pay the proper rate support grant. I am not prepared to have lectures from the Conservative Government about crime and lawlessness. They have practiced it all their lives. It is time that we saw the back of them.
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : The speech of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was Parliament's contributiion to Comic Relief. As hon. Members leave, there will be a retiring collection. As usual, we enjoyed the hon. Gentleman's contribution.
The definitions of lawlessness that the hon. Gentleman discovered were interesting and, of course, "lawlessness" is an interesting term. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) used that term when he began this debate rather than that usually distinguished lady, Laura Norden. Lawlessness can mean the abuse of the law--that is how we tend to think of it--but it can also mean that no law is available or that people are practising outside the law. In "Childe Harold" Lord Byron, or was it Bobby Robson, referred to :
"Albania's chief--whose dread command is lawless law".
One can appreciate the dangers that could arise, if one was not careful. I would stick to Beachcomber's definition :
"Justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be believed." Any hon. Member speaking to his constituents on their doorstep will think of that phrase because they tend to be worried about the safety of the individual-- "I do not feel safe"--and the safety of property--"I am concerned about my motor car, my house and so on". They are also worried about the enforcement of the law--"Where are the police?". There is a general tendency to say, "What are they doing about this?" We should be concerned not about "them" but about "us". As a community we have a responsibility to solve the problem and work together to combat crime.
The Government are doing a tremendous amount and my hon. Friend the Minister outlined some of the actions of which the Government are rightly proud. Such policies are evident in my borough of Wandsworth where there is co-operation between my Government, my local council and my local community to solve some of the problems.
I was interested to note that many of the things that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) listed as what should be happening are happening. We could always ask for more, but the hon. Gentleman only suggested something entirely different regarding custodial sentences. It is important to remember that custodial sentences not only deal with the person who attacked or robbed Mrs. Jones, but protect the many other Mrs. Joneses who have not been attacked or robbed. Them and us equals cause and effect.
Many of my hon. Friends have outlined the need to study the causes of crime and to consider parental influences. We must consider what we can do to encourage parents to set a good example. Every time a parent throws a cigarette packet out of a car window he is encouraging
Column 1199his children in the back seat to asume that that is the pattern of behaviour to follow. Those children will go on to throw their sweet wrappers and McDonalds wrappers on the streets. They will become the litter bugs, the graffiti experts and the fly tippers of the future. We must communicate to parents the extraordinary importance of their role of bringing up the next generation. Schools must play their part, too.
It is also important to consider the role of churches, which sometimes forgive the sinner, but forget to condemn the sin. One needs to do both. The new versionof the Good Samaritan is "Stop! Stop! You need help", but it appears to offer help to the man who has perpetrated the crime rather than the victim. The churches must consider their teachings to see whether they can also contribute to a better society.
My hon. Friends have referred to violence on television, and it is also important to consider the way in which television glamourises petty crime. Often the characters in soap operas are petty criminals--the shoplifter or the fellow who drinks too much and half assaults his girl friend. Those images are as bad as examples of serious violent crime. Television must consider its responsibilities.
Local councils, which have been referred to many times in the debate, have an important role to play in supporting crime prevention and in planning their estates. If estates are properly planned, they present fewer opportunities for crime. Many authorities, of which mine is one, are removing some of the walkways by which villains escape, putting in lights and removing some of the dark corners. I take seriously the point made about providing play areas. Perhaps in the past we have underestimated that matter. When we give children the challenge of adventure playgrounds and other play areas to suit their age, we are providing them with a challenge within society, and that discourages them from looking for challenges outside society. Perhaps we should look more closely at that. Shops have a role to play. The shopkeeper who sells drink to the under-age customer cannot complain when that customer consumes too much of it and breaks into the shopkeeper's premises. The same reasoning applies to other forms of illegal sales to minors.
We are looking for co-operative effort. I used to be in insurance broking, and I worked closely with the police in crime prevention campaigns. At that time the figures showed that there was a house burglary every two minutes, the average burglary took 90 seconds, and most of them happened between 2 o'clock and 4 o'clock in the afternoon. The police alone cannot combat a 90 -second burglary because, whether they are on the beat or even in fast cars, they cannot get there quickly enough.
Householders must take precautions, and we must get that message across. By all means they should take out insurance, but they should also fit solid doors, locks on accessible windows, door bolts and door viewers and chains. Householders should mark their property so that
Column 1200if it is stolen it can be retrieved. Above all, they should join neighbourhood watch schemes which bring down the crime rate. If we all work co-operatively, we can reduce crime.
We want to see the law enforced, and nowhere is that clearer than in the context of the enforcement of traffic laws in London. Police or council operatives should be around to ensure that "no waiting" restrictions are obeyed. People otherwise find their own ways to dodge the law, and that leads to a pattern of law breaking. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley on raising this important issue, and I also congratulate hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. I hope that the message will be heard by the Government, and that even more action along the present excellent lines will be taken.
Mr. Riddick : One of the articles that I read when preparing for the debate started by referring to a minute that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office sent to his Home Office officials when he went to the Department. It asked the simple question, "Please, what causes crime?" I do not know whether the debate has enlightened him on the causes of crime, but from his comments it seems that he and I may well be in agreement about many of the basic underlying causes.
The debate had two purposes. The first was to raise in the House the fears of ordinary people about the breakdown of law and order. Secondly, it has provided a useful opportunity to examine some of the underlying reasons for the growth in lawlessness. Opposition Members should not be allowed to get away with suggesting that crime is rising inexorably. As my hon. Friends have said, crime has come down over the past year, and we are beginning to see a turning point as the efforts of the Government begin to bite.
If it has done only one thing, the debate has dug out the lawbreakers in the Opposition. I did not expect the title of the debate to be so abused. I suggested that the problems of lawlessness should be the title of the debate. In his speech the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) outlined to the British people the advantages of lawlessness. He advocated breaking the law. I complained earlier about the lack of leadership among opinion formers and among politicians. We have had two appalling examples of that--the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East advocated that people should break the law, and the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who is the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, refused to condemn his hon. Friend for advocating that action. I accept the reassurances of the hon. Member for Huddersfield that he believes that the law should not be broken but respected, but he has, without question, a duty to condemn his hon. Friend for advocating that the law should be broken. I have no doubt that those chickens will come home to roost in future years.
It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
Private Members' Bills
Order for Second Reading read.
Second Reading deferred till Friday 7 April.
Order for Second Reading read.
Second Reading deferred till Friday 7 April.
Order for Second Reading read.
Second Reading deferred till Friday 7 April.
Order for Second Reading read.
Second Reading deferred till Friday 7 April.
Second Reading deferred till Friday 7 April.
That the Resolution of the House of 17th December 1985 relating to Register of Members' Interests be amended, in the third sub-paragraph, by leaving out the words "All Party and Registered Groups", and inserting the words "All Party Groups, Parliamentary Groups and Groups whose membership is open to Members of either House of more than one party".-- [Mr. Alan Howarth.]