Home Page

Column 921

House of Commons

Thursday 13 May 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Madam Speaker : I regret to have to inform the House of the death of Robert James Adley, Esquire, Member for Christchurch. I desire, on behalf of the House, to express our sense of the loss that we have sustained. We send our sympathy to the relatives of the hon. Member.


Greater Manchester (Light RapidTransit System) Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

Read a Second time, and committed.

British Waterways Bill

[Lords] (By Order) Order for Second Reading read to be read a Second time on Monday 17 May at Seven o'clock.

Crossrail Bill

(By Order)

East Coast Main Line (Safety) Bill

(By Order)

Woodgrange Park Cemetery Bill

[Lords](By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 20 May.

British Railways

(No. 4) Bill-- (By Order) Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [8 February], That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Debate to be resumed on Thursday 20 May.

Croydon Tramlink Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

London Local Authorities Bill

[Lords](By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 20 May.

Column 922

Oral Answers to Questions


Child Abuse

1. Mr. French : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to receive the results of the independent research he has commissioned on the use of video-recorded evidence in child abuse cases ; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Michael Jack) : We expect to receive the results in January 1995.

Mr. French : Is my hon. Friend aware that, up to last month, there were only seven examples of the use of video evidence in child abuse cases? Does he agree that this form of evidence giving not only enhances the prospect of a safe conviction, but involves minimum extra trauma for the children concerned? Will he seek to promote it, and also consider its relevance to other offences--for example, rape?

Mr. Jack : I thank my hon. Friend for raising the issue. I know that he has campaigned assiduously in his constituency. Let me update him : pre- recorded pre-trial interviews with children have now been presented as evidence in 22 cases, and to date none has been refused. I assure my hon. Friend that we are considering the development of this important way of giving evidence. A new pack has been issued to help and educate children in the act of giving witness evidence ; once we know more about this method-- which is the aim of the report--we shall consider extending it in due course.

Mr. Allen : Will the Minister pass my congratulations to his interdepartmental team, and in particular to the Department of Health? They have done some very good work.

Will the Minister go a step further? Does he accept that there is a great deal of concern about the disparate quality of research? Will he try to pull the research together in a national centre, and perhaps set up regional centres for both abusers and, more important, the abused? If he were prepared to do that--or, at least, to undertake to review the policy-- he would bring great relief to the hundreds of thousands of victims of child and, indeed, sexual abuse, whose lives are being blighted.

Mr. Jack : I thank the hon. Gentleman for his responsible attitude to this development, which is a product of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. I know from my visits to, for example, the Kent police's vulnerable victims suite that many police forces are now developing a particularly sympathetic and careful way of dealing with such evidence, and I am sure that they will discover more cases of child abuse as a result. Much of what has been done now needs to be evaluated ; during that excercise, I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Riddick : The use of video-recorded evidence is, of course, very helpful, but would it not also be beneficial to abolish the right to silence in child abuse cases? That would also be useful in terrorism cases. Is it not time that juries were allowed to draw an inference from a suspect's

Column 923

refusal to say where he was or what he was doing at a certain time? The innocent will have nothing to hide. Is not the right to silence the criminal's best friend?

Mr. Jack : I know from earlier exchanges how many right hon. and hon. Members are troubled about that. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has received a copy of the report by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which deals with some of the issues. Although the report reached no firm conclusions, we have read it carefully and will consider its findings, together with the Royal Commission on criminal justice, whose report will doubtless include comment on the important point that my hon. Friend has raised.

Women-only Bus Services

2. Mr. Cryer : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on his policy towards the provision of women-only bus services operated in the evening.

Mr. Jack : My right hon. and learned Friend is always anxious to encourage initiatives such as this which seek to address the problems of crime and the fear of crime.

Mr. Cryer : If the Home Secretary is so anxious about providing evening-only services for women such as the Homerunner bus service in Bradford, which has had to be withdrawn, why does he not provide a grant, which has been provided for about three years? The sum of £18, 000 will get that bus back on the road and provide 300 or so women each week who use the bus service with a safe service once again. That would be about the cost of the Home Secretary's chauffeur-driven car--looking at the right hon. and learned Gentleman's figure, I think that he could do with the exercise. He should cancel the car and donate the money to keep the women of Bradford safe.

Mr. Jack : As I am sure we shall see later, my right hon. and learned Friend is a man who is light on his feet. In fairness, the safer cities project in Bradford has been generous with its support. We originally gave a grant of £24,500 to the project in January 1990, on the proviso that funding would be raised locally. As it was not, a second grant was given in 1991 to do the same thing. To help still further, a third grant of £18,000 was given in 1992. We have bent over backwards to sustain the service, which is caught up in the general debate in Bradford about safer cities. On 12 March 1993 the Telegraph and Argus stated that we should not allow the momentum generated by the Bradford safer cities projects to be lost. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support that view.

Police Duties

4. Mr. David Shaw : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps are being taken to monitor the amount of policemen's time spent on beat duty, administrative and other matters.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Clarke) : The Government have encouraged and assisted police forces to introduce standard activity sampling as a way of monitoring the time that police officers spend on beat duty, administrative and other

Column 924

matters. In addition, as I announced last week, we are launching an urgent study into ways of reducing the paperwork burden on the police.

Mr. Shaw : I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply, and I recognise that the Government are trying to make strides in that area. My constituents in Dover and Deal, and the many country villages, want see policemen on the streets--they want them to be a visible presence. They want to see the bobby back on the beat. Will my right hon. and learned Friend make every effort possible to ensure that bobbies are not tied down by administrative work in the police station?

Mr. Clarke : I am sure that my hon. Friend is right in his analysis of what his constituents would like to see. I am pleased to be able to remind him that Kent police have the highest proportion of their policemen on beat and patrol duty of any provincial force bar Surrey--they already have a good record.

The reason that I decided to institute a study of the paperwork burden on the police service was to ensure that we could reduce to the necessary minimum the amount of time spent behind desks carrying out paper-related duties when arrests and prosecutions take place. We want to ensure that the biggest proportion of police time is spent on beat and patrol duty, with the police visible to the public of Kent and elsewhere.

Mr. Miller : I am sure that the Home Secretary will share the concerns expressed on both sides of the House about the increasing levels of serious crime, especially in areas such as my own in Cheshire. Against that background, will the Home Secretary state why the head of the regional crime squad in Cheshire, Detective Superintendent Holt, together with Detective Sergeant Goulding and Detective Constable Lamble are currently confined to desk duties? Will the Home Secretary ensure that every effort is made to bring the matter to a speedy conclusion as it not only affects public confidence in the force, but relates to matters that appear to imply a serious miscarriage of justice?

Mr. Clarke : Obviously, the individual disposition of officers is a matter for the chief constable, not me, but I shall make inquiries into the present status of the case in Cheshire referred to by the hon. Gentleman and write to him if I can give him any up-to-date information. It is sometimes necessary to suspend officers or confine them to desk duties when allegations are made against them. I am extremely concerned that, when they occur, investigations should be carried out as rapidly as possible and fairly. I am always anxious to ensure that such complaints and disciplinary measures are brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible.

I have already put out a consultative document about disciplinary procedures in the police force. Although parts of it are controversial, most people agree that it is wrong from the point of view both of the public and of the police officers concerned that the process should become too protracted and legalistic and come to no conclusion for too long.

Mrs. Angela Knight : My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the difficulties that the Derbyshire police force has to bear as a consequence of adverse decisions taken by the county council. Does he agree that his proposals to allow greater freedom for both police

Column 925

authorities and chief constables will result in more bobbies on the beat, which is what my constituents in Erewash want?

Mr. Clarke : We have proposed stronger police authorities than there have been hitherto. I think that Derbyshire shows the need for a stronger police authority than its county council has been able to provide. We have also proposed that those stronger police authorities and chief constables should have far more discretion in how they deploy their resources. I am sure that, when these and the other reforms come into effect, the chief constable of Derbyshire, his force and the police authority will respond to the wish of the people of Derbyshire for a visible police presence on patrol, providing a sense of security and effective protection against crime for the people of Erewash and elsewhere.

Mr. Blair : Is not one part of ensuring that there are more police men and women on the beat, which is what everyone wants, the need to build in proper incentives and esteem for the police constables who will be carrying out this duty? Will the Home Secretary therefore undertake, as part of the inquiry being conducted by Sir Patrick Sheehy, to ensure that such incentives are built into the terms and conditions of employment of police, so that more of them are encouraged to go on the beat?

Mr. Clarke : I have had only informal contacts with Sir Patrick and his colleagues throughout the inquiry, because it is an independent inquiry, but I have given him my views on a number of subjects--views identical to those just expressed by the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that Sir Patrick and his team will bear them in mind when coming to their conclusions. It is important that rewards be distributed fairly to reflect the responsibilities borne by officers, and that the responsibilities of beat and patrol officers, whom the public rate most highly of all, be properly taken into account in the rewards system.

Parental Responsibility

5. Mr. Jacques Arnold : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures his Department has taken to make parents more accountable for the behaviour of their children.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke : From 1 October last year, courts have new powers to bind over the parents of offenders under the age of 16, order parents to attend court with their children and to pay their children's fines.

Mr. Arnold : Is it not wrong that a tiny minority of parents allow their children to run riot, to the detriment of their neighbours and of other victims? Is not punishing the parents for the crimes of their children a deterrent and a way of making them face up to their responsibilities? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that describing these measures as "punishing the innocent" as the Opposition did when voting against them, is wholly wrong?

Mr. Clarke : I agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, many parents are decent people who do their best with their children but, for one reason or another, they cannot retain control of a child that becomes delinquent. The courts will not impose penalties on such parents. There are also parents, however, who neglect the behaviour of their

Column 926

children and just assume that it is up to the police and the courts to protect the public from them. I therefore think that one of the best features of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, about which I shall be making a statement in a few moments, was the fact that it gave these powers to the courts. It is indeed ridiculous that this was about the only part of the Act that the Opposition chose to oppose.

Mr. Maclennan : Would the Home Secretary take time to familiarise himself with the Scottish system for dealing with offenders which, through the children's panels, involves parents closely from the beginning of a case and appears to have rather greater success than the English juvenile courts system in preventing recidivism?

Mr. Clarke : I was in Scotland yesterday afternoon and evening, and overnight until this morning. I took the opportunity of doing a little public sounding of my own among the Scotsmen and women whom I met. I apologise for the fact that my sample was not fully politically representative ; but the Scottish children's panels have met a rather more mixed reaction than I would have expected. Not everyone agreed that the situation in Scotland is nearer perfection than it is here.

Obscene Publications Act 1959

6. Dr. Spink : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to complete his current review of the operation of the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

Mr. Jack : My right hon. and learned Friend hopes to be in a position to announce the conclusions of that exercise shortly. It will lay particular emphasis on ways in which the enforcement of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 can be made more effective.

Dr. Spink : I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and I am pleased that he is considering ways to prevent that degrading material from escaping the law. How will his review impact on "Juliet", a book which our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister described recently as "truly horrifying" and which the

Attorney-General refused to prosecute because of the deficiencies in the 1959 Act?

Mr. Jack : My hon. Friend has taken a leading part in drawing the attention of the House to such matters and will know that they are for the Crown Prosecution Service. I remind him that, in 1991, there were 218 successful prosecutions under section 2 of the Obscene Publications Act. As far as the weight of our review is concerned, we want to hit the pockets of pornographers hard, and to make the operation of the Act more effective. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, however, a full-scale review of all the problems of the 1959 Act, which my hon. Friend knows well, is not necessarily the best way to achieve what he wants.

Mr. Alton : Does the Minister accept that obscenity, in its widest sense, also includes violence? As he knows, the dissemination of violence is widespread, especially through television programmes--many of which are broadcast before the watershed--and soaps, which broadcast incest, murder and all sorts of violence as though they were part of everyday living. That sort of obscenity also needs to be examined in the context of his review. Now that more than 100 Members from many parts of the House have signed

Column 927

an early-day motion calling for an inquiry into the link between television violence and violence in society, does he not think that that sort of review is urgently needed?

Mr. Jack : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have noted from public statements made by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary that we take what he said very seriously, and I associate myself with those comments. Yesterday, I was in discussion with the Video Standards Council, which said much the same as the hon. Member. One of the little known facts about the 1959 Act is that the term "corrupt and deprave" can apply equally to violence and to pornographic material.

Mrs. Ann Winterton : While I note that my hon. Friend and his Department have resisted calls for a fundamental review of the 1959 Act and are merely considering its enforcement, will he take it from me that that will not bring about the success--a change in the law--that he has said he wants? Does he accept that he will have to review the test of obscenity in the 1959 Act, that unless he does so no other legislation will be as strong as he would wish, and that it is about time that the Government undertook a fundamental review and brought before the House changes to improve and strengthen the outdated and flawed Obscene Publications Act?

Mr. Jack : My hon. Friend is right to use the word "outdated" in her question. Because of the exhibition that she helped to stage in the House, she knows that pornography is being disseminated by new high-tech means and by information technology, and those are the areas that we must hit hard ; improving the effectiveness of the operation of the 1959 Act is one of the best ways to deal with that. She will also know that the Government have a long-standing commitment that, if someone introduced workable alternative through private Members' legislation--the 1959 Act was such a piece of private Members' legislation--we would consider it very carefully.

Police Reorganisation

8. Mr. Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what consultations he has had in relation to the reorganisation of police forces in Wales.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle) : None, because my right hon. and learned Frienhas no plans to reorganise police forces in Wales.

Mr. Morgan : Following last week's election results, which removed from Tory control all but one of the shire counties in England--almost as good as Wales, where we have been a Tory-shire-county-free zone since 1981- -can the Home Secretary assure the House that he will not seek to take petty revenge on the electorate by removing all forms of democratic accountability from police forces when the boundaries are reorganised? How does he propose to align the boundaries of police authorities with the new boundaries of the unitary authorities as and when we get them in Wales--or is he going to tell the House that the only form of democratic accountability that he sees in the future for police forces in Wales and in England is his own, larger-than-life personality?

Column 928

Mr. Wardle : My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary set out his proposals for the membership of police authorities in the statement that he made to the House on 23 March. The hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has proposed a single tier of unitary authorities, which fall within the existing police areas, except in one instance where it crosses the boundaries of Gwent and South Wales. We shall have to consider in due course whether to adjust police areas to match new local government boundaries.

Mr. Jonathan Evans : Is my hon. Friend aware that the greater flexibility and freedom proposed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has been warmly welcomed by the chief constable of Dyfed- Powys? In considering what the force areas should be, will he give attention to the importance of smaller forces, particularly the Dyfed-Powys force which, according to figures recently published by the Home Office, has the best clear-up rate in the country?

Mr. Wardle : Yes, my hon. Friend is right. The Dyfed-Powys force stands at the top of the league of clear-up rates for the whole of England and Wales. He may have seen--as I have been made aware of it--the chief constable's paper on the size of police forces. In his statement on 23 March, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary proposed to simplify the statutory procedures by which forces can be amalgamated. He made it clear that he has no fixed, preconceived ideas about either the right number or the right size of police forces.

Mr. Michael : Perhaps the Minister can explain why the Home Secretary wants an accelerated process to deal with police mergers. We do not believe that his intentions are so innocent. Will the Minister accept that, after a 121 per cent. increase in crime under the Conservatives in Wales and in England, the last thing that the police or the public want is the diversion of a major reorganisation? They certainly do not want police authorities chaired by right-wing commissars parachuted in by ministerial decree. Will the Minister give priority to supporting the police, local authorities and communities in their efforts to reduce crime and to fight crime, and note that the smallest forces--not just Dyfed-Powys but Gwent-- have the best clear-up rates?

Mr. Wardle : The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that the increase in crime in 1992 in Wales was marginally less than the average for England and Wales as a whole. He spoke about the procedures that alllow amalgamations. I hope that he has done his homework and looked at the legislation introduced in the 1960s, which makes the approach to any such amalgamation proposals very complex. That is why my right hon. and learned Friend proposes to simplify those procedures, and he will deal with possible amalgamations as and when they should arise. The hon. Gentleman forgets that the proposals for the reform of the police service are aimed at strengthening the ability of police forces to protect the public, to prevent crime where they can do so and to tackle crime when it occurs.

Column 929

New Age Travellers

9. Mr. Clifton-Brown : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps his Department have taken to tackle the problem of new age travellers.

Mr. Charles Wardle : We propose to strengthen section 39 of the Public Order Act 1986 to give the police stronger powers to prevent invasions by travellers and new powers to enable them to prevent illegal rave parties.

Mr. Clifton-Brown : My hon. Friend will be aware that my constituents in Gloucestershire will be glad to hear that news. I informed him as long ago as the last May bank holiday weekend that we had a rave party in Lechlade, which cost the taxpayer well over £100, 000 ; we had another invasion by travellers last weekend, which cost taxpayers over £200,000. My constituents in Gloucestershire barricade their homes and their land to prevent such huge invasions. Is he aware that they are now looking to the Government to take action to amend section 39 of the Public Order Act?

Mr. Wardle : I share my hon. Friend's concern about the distress caused by large rowdy gatherings of travellers and ravers whose selfish behaviour intrudes on other people's private lives, but I hope that he acknowledges that there have been two key developments since last summer. First, as my right hon. and learned Friend has announced, we intend to strengthen the Public Order Act and apply it to a wider range of circumstances. We also propose to give the police new powers to protect local communities from illegal gatherings. Secondly, the Association of Chief Police Officers has established two co-ordination centres for intelligence gathering on travellers, and has made arrangements for much closer liaison and mutual aid to tackle just such problems. Those centres were put to good effect in the Cotswolds during the bank holiday weekend at the beginning of May.

Mr. Trimble : Does the Minister appreciate that problems with raves are not confined to those that take place in the open air, but also affect those that take place on certain premises? The existing licensing legislation and the penalties connected therewith are wholly inadequate and need to be greatly strengthened.

Mr. Wardle : I note what the hon. Gentleman says. He will be aware that another piece of legislation is involved there, but if he cares to make representations they will be listened to carefully in the Home Department.

Car Crime

10. Mr. Whittingdale : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what innovation his Department is considering to tackle car crime.

Mr. Jack : My advisory committee on car crime is looking at devising new ways to encourage a greater take-up of car security systems. Those efforts will be supported by the continuation of our successful car crime prevention campaign.

Mr. Whittingdale : Is my hon. Friend aware that immobiliser devices such as those produced by the Immobiliser group in Chelmsford are proving extremely effective in preventing car crime and are also now

Column 930

affordable? Does he agree that if more motorists spent a few extra pounds installing such devices that would have a major impact in reducing car crime?

Mr. Jack : My hon. Friend succinctly underlines one of the key messages that helped to make car crime prevention year a success. At the start of the year, car crime was rising at a rate of 18 per cent. but by the end of the year the rate of increase had dropped to 3 per cent. and the increase in thefts of cars--immobilisers are relevant to that statistic-- was only 1 per cent. We are now renewing our campaign and I am sure that that message will form a key part of it.

Mr. Faulds : Why can the car industry itself not make a greater contribution to the prevention of car crime?

Mr. Jack : If the hon. Gentleman had been with me at the fleet motor show recently he would have seen that most of the models now available in the United Kingdom come fitted with alarms, immobilisers and other security devices. Those are extremely effective and major buyers such as fleet users are seeing great success when they purchase cars with such equipment.

Mr. Sykes : Is my hon. Friend aware that recently on television a member of the North Yorkshire probation service referred to the prisoners in her charge as "clients"? Should we not stop listening to the so-called experts and start doling out punishments that fit the crime rather than the criminal?

Mr. Jack : I assume that behind my hon. Friend's question is the idea of the persistent young car thief. The Home Secretary's announcement that he will introduce a secure training order to deal with persistent young criminals, many of whom are car thieves, goes to the heart of my hon. Friend's question.

Crime and Unemployment

11. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will initiate new studies into the causes of crime and its relationship to unemployment.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Peter Lloyd) : Work on that subject was covered in the Home Office research study, "Trends in crime and their interpretation", published in 1990 and I have no current plans for fresh research in that area.

Mr. Skinner : I regard that as shocking complacency on the part of the Government. Everyone knows that young men and women are without jobs ; there are 500,000 of them on schemes and a further 500,000 waiting to leave school who cannot be motivated by their teachers because they know that their brothers and sisters have not had a job for four or five years. Is it any wonder that in our area peop Mr. Lloyd : The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) gets carried away as he expresses his own prejudices rather than the truth. The study made it perfectly clear--I quote from the introduction by Dr. Simon Field--that the fluctuations in the total numbers of unemployed persons appear to be independent of the fluctuation in the number of offences. I will give the hon.

Column 931

Gentleman an example that will appeal to his hon. Friends. When unemployment fell by 6 per cent. under the Conservatives in 1970-74, reported crime rose by 6 per cent. per year. When the Labour Government that followed the Conservative Government in 1974-79 saw unemployment rise by 17 per cent., reported crime increased by only 4 per cent. I expect the hon. Gentleman to tell me next that Labour unemployment is not merely better than Conservative unemployment, but is better than Conservative recovery as well.

Sir Anthony Grant : Will my hon. Friend reject once and for all the absurd myth that there is a direct link between unemployment and the rise in crime? Bearing in mind that before the war there was far greater poverty and unemployment, and far less crime, will he apply his mind much more to the real reasons, which are the breakdown in family life and, not least, the continual flouting of authority which is so much encouraged by Opposition Members?

Mr. Lloyd : My hon. Friend is right, although I am sure that individual unemployment can be a precipitating factor in individual cases, and that areas of multiple deprivation are huge impediments to normal law- abiding life. These are complicated problems, which we are seeking to tackle with inner city programmes, most particularly city challenge. When one considers the people who have been convicted and are in prison, what strikes one particularly is the large proportion who have been in care. Up to 40 per cent. of young offenders in prison have been in care, compared with 2 per cent. of the population as a whole, and 30 per cent. of them were consistently truanting in their last years at school. Most of them, however, have had a job, although I have no doubt at all that for the large minority who have not a large part of the reason is that they think that honest work is a mug's game.

Ms Ruddock : No one on this side of the House deems that unemployment is any excuse for crime, but the Minister's last reply gave more considered attention to this issue. Is he aware that in London, in the poorest areas and those with highest unemployment, such as Southwark, Lambeth and Hackney, there are indeed the highest crime rates, particularly for robberies and burglaries? How does he respond to deputy assistant commissioner Roach of the Metropolitan police, who said :

"Crime trends are largely determined by social factors over which the police have very little influence"?

I suggest that the Government have much control over many of those social factors and that it is time that they attended to them and really exerted some influence towards reducing the crime rate, particularly in the capital.

Mr. Lloyd : What is perfectly clear--I will send the hon. Lady the research if she has not seen it--is that, despite all our efforts over the years to find a connection between unemployment and crime, we have not done so. Nevertheless, as I have said, I have no doubt that unemployment and many other factors play a part in individual tendencies to crime. It is too easy for Opposition Members to blame unemployment. It is a complex vicious circle and, as I said in reply to my hon. Friends, the whole range of factors, particularly in the deprived areas of inner cities, needs to be tackled as a whole. That is exactly what the Government's inner city programmes seek to do. There is no single answer. Unemployment is certainly not a prime cause or a direct

Column 932

cause of crime. To say that it is such a cause is an insult to those who are unemployed and who would never indulge in crime.


12. Mr. Spring : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received regarding the right to appeal against lenient sentences.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke : Most of the representations I receive on the right of appeal against lenient sentences, which was introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 1988, are to indicate views on the outcome of particular cases.

Mr. Spring : Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that although the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) ludicrously tries to talk up his party as the party of law and order, the hon. Gentleman and his party voted against the measure? How can the British people take seriously Labour's pretension to support law and order when--

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is calling into question the Opposition's policies. He must ask the Government about their policies, especially in relation to his substantive question.

Mr. Spring : Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm the importance of ensuring that lenient sentences are referred and that we get the proper passing of sentences appropriate to the crime?

Mr. Clarke : I entirely endorse my hon. Friend's sentiments. He is right to recall that it was this Government who introduced the new power and enabled an appeal to be made against unnecessarily lenient sentences. It was used recently most notably when there was widespread public feeling about the sentence first imposed on a 15-year-old for an offence of rape in south Wales. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General used his powers under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to go to the court and to get a proper sentence imposed. That power was introduced by this Government only a few years ago. My hon. Friend is right to recall that it was opposed by Opposition Members, including Opposition Front-Bench Members.

Mr. Mike O'Brien : Is the Home Secretary aware that one of the main reasons why the courts have been concerned about lenient sentences is section 29 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which the Government brought into force last October? When the Home Secretary gave evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, he said that he did not intend to review the provision until a year had passed. Is not it the case that if he now intends to review section 29 and if he now accepts that there is inadequacy in the legislation that his Government passed to deal with crime, it is only because strong pressure to be tough on crime has come from the Opposition? Again, he has shown complacency.

Mr. Clarke : My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) has just pointed out that the Labour party ferociously opposed the prosecution's right to appeal against sentences. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) pointed out that Labour opposed the power of the court in the 1991 Act to take parents before the courts and to make them liable for the

Column 933

fines of their children. Section 29 of the 1991 Act was one of the measures to which the Opposition raised no opposition and which they supported. It is not working as Parliament intended. I have been saying for months that I intend to put the matter right as soon as I can. If the hon. Gentleman stays in the Chamber for about 20 minutes, he may get news which puts his mind at rest on the question.

Mr. Sweeney : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is Labour which has opposed every major piece of criminal justice legislation in the past 14 years?

Madam Speaker : Order. Some hon. Members will never learn. If the hon. Gentleman can ask a supplementary question that is in order, I shall of course want to hear him. I have selected him to speak.

Mr. Sweeney : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is a bit rich for Labour--

Next Section

  Home Page