Column 455Question accordingly negatived.
Amendments made: No. 20, in page 21, line 34, after `or', insert
`where he is a member of a married or unmarried couple'. No. 21, in page 21, line 39, after `or', insert
`where he is a member of a married or unmarried couple.'. No. 22, in page 21, line 42, leave out from ` `partner' ' to end of line and insert
`means the other member of the couple concerned.'. -- [Mr. Roger Evans.]
Amendments made: No. 23, in page 22, line 10, leave out `he considers' and insert `may be'.
No. 24, in page 22, line 19, at end insert
`but do not include a private dwelling-house unless the inspector has reasonable grounds for supposing that the dwelling-house is being used for the purposes of a trade or business.'. -- [Mr. Roger Evans.]
Amendments made: No. 25, in page 23, line 37, leave out `this Act' and insert `that section'.
No. 26, in page 23, line 38, leave out `this Act' and insert `section 23'.
No. 27, in page 23, line 44, leave out `this Act' and insert `section 23'.
Column 456No. 28, in page 24, line 7, leave out `this Act' and insert `section 23'.-- [Mr. Roger Evans.]
Amendments made: No. 29, in page 24, line 33, at end insert `"employed earner" has the meaning prescribed for the purposes of this Act;'.
No. 30, in page 25, line 12, leave out
`such meaning as may be prescribed'
`the meaning prescribed for the purposes of this Act'.-- [Mr. Roger Evans.]
Amendments made: No. 31, in page 26, line 41, at end insert `or'.
No. 32, in page 26, line 43, leave out from `29(1)' to end of line 44.
No. 33, in page 27, line 2, leave out from `under' to end of line 6 and insert
`section 24 or paragraph (b) of the definition of "pension payments" in section 29(1).'-- [Mr. Roger Evans.]
Amendments made: No. 34, in page 31, leave out lines 41 to 45. No. 35, in page 32, leave out lines 15 to 21.-- [Mr. Roger Evans.]
Amendments made: No. 36, in page 33, line 26, at end insert-- `The Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 (c. 49)
. In section 78(2A) of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 (relief from payment of contributions in respect of children subject to supervision requirements etc.), after "income support" insert ", an income-based jobseeker's allowance (payable under the Jobseekers Act 1995)".'.
No. 37, in page 34, line 5, at end insert--
`The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (c. 44)
. In section 53(3) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (school meals), after "income support" insert "or of an income-based jobseeker's allowance (payable under the Jobseekers Act 1995)" and for "it" substitute "that benefit".'.
No. 38, in page 34, line 14, at end insert--
`The Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 (c.47)
The Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 is amended as follows. In section 8(b) (availability of advice and assistance), after "income support" insert ", an income-based jobseeker's allowance (payable under the Jobseekers Act 1995)".
In section 11(2)(b) (contributions in respect of advice and assistance), after "income support" insert ", an income-based jobseeker's allowance (payable under the Jobseekers Act 1995)".' No. 39, in page 35, line 21, after `to', insert `half'. No. 40, in page 35, line 22, leave out `the claimant' and insert `them'.-- [Mr. Roger Evans.]
Column 457Further consideration adjourned.--[ Mr. Bates. ]
Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered tomorrow.
Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport): I wish to present a petition which has been collected by the Sunday Independent newspaper on behalf of the South West Water consumers in my area who are deeply concerned that their water bills have doubled since the privatisation of water, and who know that their bills are to rise further and that they have to pay more than any other region in the country.
To the Honourable the commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.
The Humble Petition of the people of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset sheweth that water consumers in the south west of England have seen their bills double since 1989 and are burdened with the highest water bills in the whole country.
Wherefore your Humble Petitioners pray that your honourable House will take urgent action to prevent further water price rises for domestic users in the south west and will ensure that South West Water considers the plight of domestic users as well as the interests of its shareholders and businesses in the region.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. The petition has been signed by 42,511 people.
To lie upon the Table.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse): I must point out to the hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) that the case of PC King is sub judice, and I trust that the hon. Gentleman will not include any reference to it in his speech.
We have heard a lot recently about the rights and welfare of offenders, but, as Members of Parliament, we have a much higher priority, which is a responsibility to the law-abiding public and to the victims of crime. We have a responsibility to protect them from the offender and from those who would threaten violence.
There is too much excusing of bad behaviour and not enough unequivocal condemnation of it. The public are sick to the back teeth of thugs laughing at justice as they walk free, while the Crown Prosecution Service--in its politically correct way--pursues those who seek to defend the public. The public have a clear view of crime and punishment, and their perceptions are worthy. First, they want the CPS to exhibit more common sense in its prosecution policy and to pursue the real villains who go out to cause mischief and mayhem, and not good people. Secondly, the public believe that when the courts find people guilty of a serious crime, they should give tough sentences. They also believe that Parliament should provide a more effective range of sentences for the courts to use. Thirdly, people think that when villains are sent to prison, they should endure a tough and stark regime which will deter, as well as rehabilitate. There can be no place in prison cells for television sets, home comforts and drugs.
We are making good progress on fighting crime, not least because of the sound guiding hand of men such as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State for the Home Department, who is to reply to the debate. My hon. Friend is greatly admired by his Dorset constituents. I know that because I represented those people on the police authority in Dorset, and also as a police cells lay visitor.
Crime figures are now significantly down--particularly property crime--and my hon. Friend may be able to give us the statistics. That welcome fall in crime is due to a number of factors which are worth examining. The work of the police in targeting persistent offenders has been important, and courts have done their duty by increasingly putting habitual thieves into prison. My constituents know that prison works, not least because the villain cannot prey on the vulnerable while he is locked up.
We heard on "Kilroy" last Thursday that the one thing which really deters young villains is the shock of a custodial sentence. Ex-villains made that point graphically in the evidence which they gave on "Kilroy". They said that they laughed at probation officers and community orders, but that they did not laugh at prison. Some of them thought that they had been robbed of years of their lives because they were not given proper punishment early enough. The mother of one of the young offenders made
Column 459a plea from the heart for her son to be dealt with more harshly, so that he could learn the real lessons of life. I shall return to that point later.
I must stress the importance of parental responsibility. Society must do more to reinforce that responsibility both by empowering courts to enforce it more effectively and by helping more vulnerable parents to cope.
Crime prevention has an important role. Castle Point's local crime prevention officer, Gordon Sinclair, is worth his weight in gold. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) agrees with me on that. Mr. Sinclair is the local catalyst in partners against crime. He has launched successful industrial estate watch schemes and even developed an innovative neighbourhood cluster security scheme which has rightly received Home Office commendation. Recent Home Office achievements include tougher standards for community sentences, new guidelines to limit repeat cautioning, new parish councils, less paperwork for the police so that they can get out on the streets and additional powers for the Attorney -General to refer unduly lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal. Of course, we now give better treatment to victims.
In the Government's legislative programme key issues have been firmly tackled. For instance, a move has been made to give custodial sentences to persistent 12 to 14-year-old offenders. There has been a crackdown on bail bandits. The Government have reformed the right to silence rule, which benefited the professional crooks. A new DNA database has been established to help detect serious crime. Those are all sound measures. It is a great pity that Opposition Members are so churlish about them.
For less serious crime, we need non-custodial sentences, but they must be more rigorous and effective and better focused on the needs of the law- abiding community as well as dealing with the offenders with understanding, compassion and thoughtfulness, of course. So I welcome the Green Paper "Strengthening punishment in the community". It foreshadows the replacement of the soft, easy option of current community punishments and empowers the courts to be more innovative and focused in sentencing. In the words of Gilbert and Sullivan, it lets the punishment fit the crime, and about time too.
Let me give an example of how the proposed single integrated community sentence might operate. I take the case of a drunken fool who goes out late at night to damage people's property by spraying graffiti. The court could specify all or any of the following. It could require reparation to the community by ordering 50 hours' clean-up work, including graffiti removal. It could restrict the offender from returning to the homes or the area that he damaged. It could impose a curfew order on the offender of, say, 9 o'clock so that he was back at home and not out in the dark doing his mischief. It could also order his attendance at an alcohol abuse clinic, giving an element of rehabilitation and hope to the offender. All this is common sense and therefore it has my backing.
Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen): Is my hon. Friend aware that in Orange county in California graffiti vandals have six strokes of a rattan cane and in St. Louis they are considering putting this on television? I proposed
Column 460at the weekend that we should consider seriously the use of a rattan cane for our very violent criminals. Perhaps the Minister might take that on board.
Dr. Spink: My hon. Friend is never knowingly oversold when it comes to defending vulnerable people in our society against those who would go about with villainy in their mind. I congratulate her on her efforts on behalf of vulnerable people and her constituents. We need to go further and provide a greater range of alternatives to gaol--non-custodial sentences. So I welcome the trial of the so-called boot camp philosophy, which also comes from the American experience. We should focus on the best of that experience to give a tough and rigorous reforming regime for our wayward youngsters. It must inject discipline into vulnerable young lives which have had little structure and which social systems have betrayed by withholding timely and effective punishment and strict frameworks of behaviour.
I should also like to look again at the short, sharp shock of incarceration, but not the old 46-day model, which failed. It was too long. It gave the youngsters time to settle down, to achieve a pecking order and to learn from each other. We need a new, five to seven-day model--much shorter and infinitely sharper.
We must let youngsters know with absolute certainty and at the earliest possible stage in their careers in crime what the future would hold for them. To treat young offenders with inappropriate kindness and understanding is often to deceive them into a life on the slippery slope of crime and to betray them in the way that we betrayed our youngsters in education, with a politically correct and totally counter-productive, progressive social and education system. I welcome the Government's move to resist solutions such as that of Essex social services, under a now disgraced Labour and Liberal pact, where young thieves and thugs were sent on foreign holidays and were thereby positively encouraged and reinforced in their wayward ways by misguided social workers.
Some hon. Members advocate bringing back flogging, as we just heard--
Dr. Spink: My hon. Friend advocates caning. If we do it, we should do it properly and it should be a real deterrent on the Singapore model. Any hon. Member who thinks that it would not work and would not deter thugs and vandals should go to Singapore, where they will see women walking in the streets safely at night. They will not see any cars being vandalised on the streets and the only joyriders are young children playing on the carousel in safety.
My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) has done the House a great service by raising that important issue, and I congratulate her. She found a most novel and effective way to bring the matter to public attention.
For most serious crimes, I want the most serious punishment. I want hanging for certain types of murder and I do not say that lightly.
Mr. David Amess (Basildon): Does my hon. Friend agree that the restoration of capital punishment for pre-determined murder would act as an effective deterrent? Does he also agree that, if it saved one life, it
Column 461would be worth while? Finally, does he agree that, by failing to vote for its restoration, the House has let the British people down and has damaged our sense of fairness and of making the punishment fit the crime?
Dr. Spink: My hon. Friend makes his point most eloquently and persuasively. He is absolutely right, as always. He will have noted a week or so ago that a murderer, who had murdered his girlfriend, done his sentence and been let out, then murdered his next girlfriend. No doubt he will be back in prison and I wonder whether we will let him out a second and a third time. That is a very good point. On armed robbery, villains are going equipped with firearms to commit an ever-widening and ever more petty range of crimes. They even go armed with guns to rob sweet shops. They take guns only after careful planning and deliberation. The one who carries the gun should add this to his deliberations--if convicted, he will go down for a statutory minimum of 10 years, and probably longer. There will be no remission for good behaviour, but only longer for bad behaviour. There will be no mitigating circumstances and no argument of, "It was his first offence, M'lud." That would have a salutary deterrent impact on the villain's decision to tool up. It would make society a safer place, make life safer for police and it would help Parliament to withstand pressure to arm the police, which would be wrong. On the killing of Tony Martin, my 17- year-old constituent, the judge said of the guilty man, 31-year-old Andrew Osborne,
"you opened that knife and plunged it into a 17-year-old boy's body."
He received six years' imprisonment and may serve only four, which is not enough to serve as a sound deterrent and to protect society. The thug was convicted of manslaughter--a verdict that many of my constituents think was a travesty. I will not comment on it. I have the first instalment of a massive local petition, which I shall present to the House once it is complete. It calls for the sentence to be referred to the Court of Appeal. We cannot bring back young Tony Martin, as much as our hearts and sympathies go out to his loving and caring family, but we can help them in their grief by giving them hope that other young people will be safer in the future. We can do that by making it a much more serious offence for knives to be taken to places of entertainment where young people congregate.
Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield): Does my hon. Friend agree that the fundamental reason for the ridiculous circumstances that we find ourselves in is that we have had a succession of weak-kneed Home Secretaries since the war--one after another? Are not civil servants in the Home Office to blame for that state of affairs? When will the present Home Secretary show his true colours and get hanging and corporal punishment restored and castration introduced? If someone rapes, castrate him! When will we start to have Conservative principles, not the wishy-washy politics of the lot that sit opposite?
Column 462said. I cannot agree with his criticism of the Home Secretary, however, as his decisions must reflect public opinion. I want, with my hon. Friend, to influence public opinion to ensure that the public force us to take the action that they want us to take, which is to get tough on villains. That is the message that we receive. I refer to recent cases of police officers who have been charged with assault having dealt with hooligans and serious thugs. I have such a constituency case, but the attorney informed me this afternoon that an appeal has been lodged. The matter is therefore sub judice and I shall respect that. I hope that, if necessary, I can bid again for a suitable occasion to raise that specific constituency matter. Tonight, however, I shall speak generally.
It is said that the law is an ass; I say that people who interpret the law badly and in defiance of justice are the asses. Society expects the police and all good citizens to step in to save a child, an elderly person or a youth from the violent threat of a thug. We certainly do not want a constable to stand back and wait for that threat to become a reality, and an elderly person to be cast to the floor, or a baby to be thrown from a train. If a police constable reacts to a situation not of his making and without malice, exerting reasonable force in response to a violent threat to the public, he should not risk losing his job. That would be unjust and disproportionate.
If a constable were to lose his job in such circumstances, the message to every police officer would be crystal clear. It would be, "Don't get stuck in to protect a threatened, vulnerable member of the public. Stand back. Wait for the thug to do his worst and convert his violent threat into violent action. Then politely ask the thug if he would care to accompany you to the station. Show him your warrant card and hope that he will be impressed by that"--I doubt it in this day and age--"and if you do step in, remember: you may lose your job."
Society must avoid sending out that message. We all accept that the police rely on community, co-operation and confidence to do their job effectively. Serving police officers, politicians and communities across this nation have watched those cases develop with great concern. They have written in their thousands in support of accused policemen, particularly in recent weeks, but they need have no fear--
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is doing his best, but he seems to be describing a particular case, even though he has not mentioned it. Will he get away from that case?
Police commissioners, if not all courts, are sound and sensible. They know that the PC Guscott precedent must weigh heavily. Commissioners of police are experienced, good men, with a clear sense of justice.
A court might assume that a policeman, observing a violent threat, should walk away or try to reason with the thug and that that thug, left to his own devices, would not carry out his original threat, nor subsequently harass or pick a fight with another person. The policeman would not have the time or hindsight enjoyed by a court that subsequently decided on the matter. That policeman must decide, on the spur of the moment, what to do and he may
Column 463decide that safe is better than sorry and remove the threat by using reasonable and proportionate force. That is what I and other hon. Members would want him to do.
The courts should take into account not just the probability of outcome, but the gravity of it. Let me explain that complex evaluation of a decision with an illustration. A 100 per cent. probability of a £1 outcome has less worth than a 1 per cent. probability of a £1 million outcome. We all understand that, so let me take that illustration further. Where the thug threatens the most grievous harm and the policeman takes minor physical action to remove that threat, those facts must weigh heavily when judging the reasonableness of the policeman's decision. The slaughter of a child would be a grievous threat, as would a threat to attack an old person.
If doubt remains in the minds of hon. Members, let me add a second and rather chilling thought. What if a citizen or an off-duty policeman had been in the pub when 17-year-old Tony Martin was knifed on Canvey island? If he heard the escalating threat and moved in to stop the developing fracas, he might have hit a thug and made an arrest, if he thought that that was reasonable. The CPS may have prosecuted that bobby for common assault, particularly if an independent witness stood against him. We should, of course, ask searching questions about any so-called independent witness's experience of the police.
After the event, the CPS and others in the court might argue that, in any case, no one ever believed that real harm had been intended. Perish the thought. People had merely made boastful threats and no one in the pub would have done anyone else any harm. Of course not. But Tony Martin died that night. If an off-duty policeman had been in that pub, Martin might have lived. Perhaps that is why we should not judge the police too sanctimoniously when they act genuinely to meet the threat of violence, and they, rather than the thug, end up in court. If, on the spur of the moment, the police make an error of judgment--I am not saying that they do--they should not lose their jobs.
I welcome the Government's sound crime and punishment policy. I encourage them to be even tougher in the future. I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your patience.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Nicholas Baker): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) on losing no time in securing an early opportunity to debate penalties on crime following the publication, last week, of the Government's Green Paper on community punishments. My hon. Friend's concern for law and order is well known and well respected and is as one would expect from a former county councillor for God's own county of Dorset. It was remarkable to me, but not surprising, that he was supported in the excellent debate by my hon. Friends the Members for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock), for Basildon (Mr. Amess) and for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans). They added their support for punishment for graffiti vandals and capital punishment. My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield offered us the three Cs--capital, corporal and castration. The only source of disagreement with my hon. Friend is that he referred to "the lot sitting opposite"; but Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will have noticed, as I have done,
Column 464despite my not-perfect sight, that no Opposition Members are present for this debate on law and order. Law and order are of the greatest concern to my hon. Friends and I deeply regret that no Opposition Members are here to join that debate. Naturally, I was pleased to note my hon. Friend's strong support for the general thrust of Government policy on law and order, and I shall do my best, in the moments that remain, to respond to as many of those arguments as possible.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point knows, the Government's approach to tackling crime has sought to ensure, first, that a proper emphasis is given to the prevention of crime; secondly, that the police have adequate powers to apprehend the guilty; thirdly, that justice is fairly as well as efficiently done; and, fourthly, that the courts have the necessary powers to deal effectively with those who are convicted. We are also committed, as my hon. Friend noted in his speech, to providing better treatment for the victims of crime.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for outlining some of the Government's significant achievements. As he says, it is a pity that not everyone in the House--one looks at the empty Opposition Benches--has the interest to be with us tonight or has supported the measures that we have introduced. Indeed, most of our difficult but necessary measures have been introduced in the House in the teeth of fierce opposition by our Opposition opponents.
At the outset of his speech, my hon. Friend mentioned three specific public anxieties about law and order. The first of those concerned the prosecution policy adopted by the Crown Prosecution Service. I know that anxieties are sometimes expressed by members of the public about cases that have been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service, as well as about some cases that have been taken to court.
It is not for me, as a Minister, to comment on the way in which the independent CPS makes its decisions, but the general policy of the CPS appears to be pretty sensible--to prosecute all offences where the evidence provides a realistic prospect of conviction and where it is in the public interest to do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point also mentioned that the public believe that those found guilty of serious crimes should be given tough sentences. The Government entirely agree that those who commit serious crimes should be properly dealt with by the courts. Indeed, so that long sentences can be imposed, we have ensured that tough penalties are available for the most serious crimes. Life imprisonment is mandatory for murder and the maximum for other grave crimes such as manslaughter, rape, wounding with intent and robbery. We are committed to keeping penalties under review to ensure that they remain appropriate. Where changes are needed, we do not hesitate to make them.
Sentencing in individual cases must be a matter for the court that has heard all the evidence in a case. The sentencing framework in which the courts operate does, however, explicitly link the type of penalty that will be appropriate with the seriousness of the offence committed. The length of a prison sentence, where one is imposed, will similarly be affected by the seriousness of the offence. The Government are aware that unduly lenient sentencing in serious cases undermines public confidence in the criminal justice system. That is why we introduced
Column 465the power that the Attorney-General now has to refer serious cases to the Court of Appeal if it appears that the sentence is unduly lenient. As my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point rightly notes, we have recently extended that power to include a wider range of offences.
Towards the start of his speech, my hon. Friend mentioned the crime figures and asked whether I could provide the most recent figures. For the 12 months to June 1994, 5.4 million crimes were recorded by the police in England and Wales--a 5.5 per cent. decrease on the previous 12 months. The figure for property crime, to which my hon. Friend especially referred, decreased by 6 per cent., for burglary and theft by 8 per cent. and for vehicle crime by 9 per cent. As he knows, we have been very encouraged by recent decreases in recorded crime. We know, however, that there is no room for complacency. It remains of great concern to the Government that crime is a reality for far too many people. The tough stance against crime and the criminal must continue.
I was pleased to note my hon. Friend's support for the use of community sentences for less serious crime. As he rightly said, we have recently introduced tougher national
Column 466standards for existing community sentences. I was equally pleased to note his support for the proposals outlined in the Green Paper that we published last week.
My hon. Friend also suggested that a further look should be taken at the short, sharp shock of incarceration. He rightly acknowledged that the experiment with such regimes during the 1980s was not a success. He suggested a different approach that would simply give young offenders a taste of what prison was like to discourage them, at an early stage, from pursuing a life of crime.
My hon. Friend mentioned a recent case in his constituency involving the death of a young man. I recognise the strong feelings so understandably felt by Mr. Martin's family and friends, and by other people in the area. I appreciate that it can sometimes be difficult for people to understand why there has been a manslaughter verdict in such cases. The position in law is that where, on a charge of murder, there is evidence on which a jury can find that the person charged was provoked--
The motion having been made after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order. Adjourned accordingly at Eleven o'clock.