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Causes of Crime (Research)

9. Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent research his Department has evaluated on the correlation between social and economic conditions and crime. [18990]

Mr. Howard: A wide range of Government and independent studies on that subject have been evaluated by my Department, including recently published Home Office research by Graham and Bowling into why some young people commit crime.

Mr. Prentice: Is there not a close and direct correlation between unemployment, especially youth unemployment, and crime, notably violent crime--a correlation that Conservative Members have consistently denied? If I am wrong about that, will the Home Secretary tell me why this year, for the first time, the police grant includes an element that specifically addresses youth unemployment?

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman is mistaken: research has not uncovered any link between unemployment levels and crime. However, this is one of the most arid arguments that it is possible to have. We recognise that unemployment is a social evil, whether or not it causes crime, and we pursue policies that bring unemployment down. The Labour party pursues policies--such as the introduction of the social chapter

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and the minimum wage--that increase unemployment. That can be seen from the figure for youth unemployment in France, of 27.7 per cent., and that for Spain, of 38.2 per cent., which is double the figure in this country.

Mrs. Peacock: Is it not outrageous that many people suggest that all those who are unemployed, and all those on low incomes, become criminals? That is an insult to the many law-abiding citizens who are unemployed, often through no fault of their own. Unemployed people should not all be put in the same category.

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend is entirely right. The vast majority of unemployed people are law-abiding citizens, and it casts a slur on them to suggest that unemployment is in any sense an excuse for crime.

Mr. Straw: While nothing could or should excuse the commission of crime, does the Home Secretary agree that high unemployment levels, especially among young people, contribute considerably to increasing the number of people who are tempted into a criminal life? Was not Lord Whitelaw--another Conservative Home Secretary--entirely correct when he said exactly that?

Mr. Howard: The question originally put by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) was about research. Research has not uncovered any link between unemployment and crime--particularly violent crime, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I repeat: if the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) is so keen to reduce unemployment, why does he not persuade his party to abandon its policies on the social chapter and the minimum wage--and, indeed, the policies that would consign 16 to 18-year-olds straight from school to the dole queue? Unlike the Government, the hon. Gentleman's party would not make training compulsory for 16 to 18-year-olds, and would encourage them to become unemployed.

Mr. Brazier: Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, during the 1930s, when more than 20 per cent. of the work force was unemployed, crime was at almost its lowest ever point? In the context of his last answer, will he join me in congratulating Kent training and enterprise council on its current remarkable programme under which several hundred youngsters from the worst and most difficult conditions, many of them with criminal records, are given work experience courses to prepare them for training? It includes, where necessary, physically getting them out of bed in the morning.

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw attention to the levels of unemployment and crime in the 1930s. I am happy to join him in endorsing the excellent work that is being carried out by Kent training and enterprise council.

Mr. Alton: Where there are sink estates and deprived social conditions, does the Secretary of State agree-- to return to the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight)--that the constant flow of violence via television and video contributes to the culture of violence?

As the House is soon to consider a broadcasting Bill, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give parents the chance to have a V-chip inserted in their television sets

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so that they can sift out the violence that is being poured into their homes? What does he propose to do about James Ferman's decision--and that of the British Board of Film Classification--to license for home viewing, and therefore for access by children, a film as outrageous as the one to which the hon. Member for Edgbaston referred--"Natural Born Killers"--which glorifies violence, the killing, maiming or brutalising of 50 people and the amoral consequence of no one being held to account at the end of the film? People drive off into the sunset as if the matter were entirely neutral.

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman knows that I have a great deal of sympathy for the general view with which he began his question. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage is considering making the chip to which the hon. Gentleman referred available in this country. The hon. Gentleman asked about the British Board of Film Classification. He and I co-operated on strengthening the legislation that deals with such matters. It makes greater the ease and availability of judicial review for the board's decisions, and anyone who feels aggrieved by the decision to which the hon. Gentleman referred can take that avenue.

Police Patrolling

10. Sir Michael Shersby: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the recommendations of the Audit Commission in relation to police patrolling. [18991]

Mr. Maclean: I recognise the value to the public of effective patrols by the police. I therefore welcome the report and we and the police service will look carefully at its recommendations.

Sir Michael Shersby: Does my right hon. Friend agree with the Audit Commission's conclusion that traditional beat-style policing needs to be nurtured? Does he also agree that that type of policing is highly effective in dealing with street crime and vandalism, and that that view is widely shared by the public, not least my constituents in Uxbridge?

Mr. Maclean: That view is shared by the constituents of every hon. Member. Not only do the Government agree that beat patrolling has a valid role to play and should be nurtured, but we have taken positive steps to enhance it further. It is not just the extra 15,000 officers whom we have recruited since 1979 that is proof of our nurturing of the police service, or the extra 17,000 civilians who have released more bobbies for the beat, but the commitment to 5,000 more officers specifically to enhance the visible presence on the streets which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has promised and for which we have started to give out funding.

Mr. Michael: Does the Minister accept that the importance of patrolling is that it reinforces the traditional and mutual confidence between the police and the public? Does he accept that, to allow the police to concentrate on their job and to reassure the public, it is important to create a real partnership between the police, the local authority and the local community to fight crime, as advocated by the Labour party? Will he commend the

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local authorities that have joined local police to adopt such an approach and stop obstructing the legislative framework that they need and which was recommended by the Government's own Morgan report?

Mr. Maclean: The hon. Gentleman should get into the latter part of the 20th century. The Morgan report is so old hat these days that local authorities and police partnerships are being created all over Britain without compulsion or regulation. The hon. Gentleman must decide. He is inconsistent. He asks me to acknowledge the tremendous success of partnerships and goes on to say that we must have statutory regulation to create partnerships. It is illogical nonsense. We do not need legislation because, throughout the country, partnerships are being created by voluntary means. People come together to help the police. They know that that is in their best interests. That is our policy, and it is working.

Burglars (Custodial Sentences)

11. Mr. Congdon: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what percentage of burglars are given a custodial sentence; and what is the average length of time spent in prison by such offenders. [18992]

Mr. Howard: On the basis of a recent sample, a custodial sentence is imposed on 67 per cent. of people convicted of domestic burglary in the Crown court and on 22 per cent. of people convicted in magistrates courts. Average sentence lengths were 16.8 months in the Crown court and 3.9 months in the magistrates courts. Roughly half the sentence passed is spent in prison.

Mr. Congdon: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that those figures illustrate the need for courts not only to give longer sentences, but to give exceptionally long sentences to repeat offenders? May I urge him to press on with his proposals to introduce minimum sentences for repeat offenders and to reject the views of the judiciary?

Mr. Howard: I agree with my hon. Friend that the public need greater protection from persistent burglars' activities. By and large, the sentences passed by the courts on persistent burglars are inadequate. That is why there is a strong case for the introduction of minimum mandatory sentences for such burglars.

Mr. Simpson: What is the success rate of such sentences, compared with non-custodial sentences, in deterring future criminal behaviour? When does the Home Secretary plan to come before the House with a serious programme of commitments to reparation schemes in the community? Why does he insist on withdrawing funding from preventive schemes that have a record of working?

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman may be surprised to hear that the recidivism rate for people leaving prison is lower than that for people who have community sentences passed on them or who have probation orders made in respect of them. When one takes into account the fact that people sentenced to prison tend to be the most serious

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offenders, sentenced for the most serious offences, that is a surprising fact and not, I suspect, the answer that he thought he would receive.

Mr. Butterfill: Is not burglary a crime in respect of which there is a much higher repeat offending level? In those circumstances, is not it clear that the present sentencing level is an inadequate deterrent?

Mr. Howard: I agree with my hon. Friend that the public are especially at risk from persistent, prolific burglars. It is in relation to those persistent offenders that the case for minimum mandatory sentences is strongest.

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