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Metropolitan Police

3. Ms Hodge: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on police strength in the Metropolitan police in (a) 1996 and (b) 1992. [19784]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard): I hope that you, Madam Speaker, will permit me to say how pleased I am sure the whole House is to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) in his place on the Conservative Benches this afternoon.

In answer to the hon. Lady's question, between March 1992 and March 1996, a like-for-like comparison shows that about 800 extra uniformed constables were made available to Metropolitan police divisions for operational duties--an increase of 6 per cent. On average, uniformed divisional constables now spend some 10 per cent more time on patrol than in 1992.

Ms Hodge: In the dying moments of the Conservative Government, will the Home Secretary break his right to silence and confess that the figures that are in Hansard of 28 February--column 431--demonstrate that, year on year, police strength in the capital has gone down; confess that, this year, Londoners are paying more for their police service but are getting less; and confess that this is yet another in a long string of broken promises that Londoners have had to bear from a discredited Government?

Mr. Howard: I have given the hon. Lady the accurate figures and am astonished that she should prattle on in that way when she knows perfectly well that her party's shadow Chancellor has said that not a penny more will be committed to the Metropolitan police. There will be no more money for the police, according to the shadow Chancellor, so the hon. Lady's question is absolutely inexplicable. I should have

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thought that she would have wanted instead to draw attention to the fact that, in the Dagenham division, which corresponds to her constituency, since 1992, notifiable offences have fallen by 10 per cent., recorded residential burglaries by nearly 30 per cent., recorded sexual offences by nearly 30 per cent., theft of motor vehicles by nearly 25 per cent.; that the clear-up rate for total notifiable offences has risen from 15 per cent. to 22 per cent., for robbery from 12 per cent. to more than 22 per cent. and for domestic burglary from 11.5 per cent. to 29 per cent. That is good news for the hon. Lady's constituents.

Mr. Jessel: While all sensible people accept that to save lives extra police are needed in central London to combat terrorism and drug trafficking, which may mean slightly fewer police officers in outer London, I remind my right hon. and learned Friend that people in outer London remain very concerned about crime and hope that at some time in future, and before very long, additional police officers can be found for outer London.

Mr. Howard: I well understand my hon. Friend's concerns on behalf of his constituents. I know how energetic he has been in drawing them to my attention and that of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis who I know will want to do everything he can to respond to my hon. Friend's concerns in the future.

Children (Criminal Activities)

4. Mr. Harry Greenway: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans his Department has to take action to discourage children from taking part in criminal activities; and if he will make a statement. [19785]

Mr. Howard: The Government believe that it is important to identify as early as possible children who may be at risk of offending and to take action to help them stay clear of crime. We have just published a Green Paper, "Preventing Children Offending", which sets out proposals for action to help children before they become offenders and reinforces parents' responsibility for their children's behaviour.

Mr. Greenway: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is totally in the interests of society, and children in particular, that they should be taught the difference between right and wrong from an early age, and that therefore Christian or moral education in schools is absolutely crucial, although it is seriously neglected by Labour-controlled authorities right across the land? Is not it totally wrong for vicars, or clergymen of any kind, not to mention the Leader of the Opposition, to condone shoplifting, for example?

Mr. Howard: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The remarks to which he has referred, both by the clergyman concerned and the Leader of the Opposition, were quite disgraceful. The Leader of the Opposition sought to excuse certain kinds of pickpocketing and shoplifting in a most disgraceful remark in a speech that he made a short while ago. We all have a duty to inculcate a sense of right and wrong in our children, and it is particularly regrettable when those in positions of authority fail to contribute to that objective.

Mr. Alex Carlile: Will the Home Secretary explain to the House why it has taken 18 years for the Government

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to produce a Green Paper on dealing with youth crime, and why he did not even act upon the recommendation of his own Home Office research study 161 which revealed some months ago that even a relatively expensive early intervention against youth crime can save an awful lot of money later because young offenders' institutions are so expensive and ineffective?

Mr. Howard: A great deal has been done during the past 18 years to deal with youth crime in various ways. The Green Paper draws together best practice to try to encourage that best practice across the country and to make new proposals for parental control orders which will encourage parents to exert greater control over their offspring.

Mr. Tredinnick: Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that crime among youngsters is one of the main worries of the Burbage safe neighbourhood action group in my constituency? How will the child crime teams envisaged in his Green Paper work when the Government are re-elected after 1 May?

Mr. Howard: I hope that child crime teams will be able to bring all the relevant agencies and voluntary bodies, including, for example, Home Start, to bear on those children who experience difficulties and are likely to become career criminals. I hope that everything that can be done will be done to turn them away from a career of crime, and at an early stage. That will be the objective of the child crime teams.

Mr. Straw: I endorse the Home Secretary's welcome to the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling). We are pleased to see him back.

Does the Home Secretary recognise that nowhere has the Government's failure during the past 18 years been greater than in respect of the youth justice system, with an increase in just the past 10 years of 35 per cent. in the number of youth crimes but a drop of an equivalent amount--35 per cent.--in the number of young criminals being brought to court? Is the Home Secretary particularly aware of the large number of 10 to 13-year-olds who are not taught the difference between right and wrong under the current system and who presently escape any punishment at all for those serious offences? In view of that, why have the Government failed so far to bring forward any proposals to reform the law on doli incapax?

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman totally misrepresents the current position. It is perfectly possible for 10 to 13-year-olds to be brought to court, to be accused of their crime and to be convicted if it can be shown, as it usually can in those circumstances, that they knew the difference between right and wrong. The Crown Prosecution Service says that there is no evidence of a real problem arising out of the rule to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The Government are keeping the operation of that rule under review. If there is any evidence that it is causing a problem, we will act to deal with it.

Mr. John Greenway: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that more than 85 per cent. of young people who get into trouble do not reoffend because of the measures taken by the police and the courts? The number

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before the courts has reduced, because of the effect of cautioning. Is not the real problem the 15 per cent. who are not deterred from crime by a caution or by getting into trouble once? That is where the growth in juvenile crime lies, and where tough measures are needed. It is no use the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) nodding his head. We need the secure training units that his party refused to support.

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend is entirely right. I know that he will be particularly pleased to learn that the first contract for a secure training unit was signed on 3 March this year. We can now implement that policy, which, as my hon. Friend rightly said, was opposed root and branch by the Opposition parties. The unit will provide secure accommodation to deal with persistent young offenders in the way that is most appropriate.

Jury Trials

5. Mr. Livingstone: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received concerning his proposals to restrict the right to jury trial. [19786]

Mr. Howard: Giving magistrates the right to decide where either-way cases should be tried was one of 33 recommendations in the report of the review of delay in the criminal justice system, which was published on 27 February and is now out for consultation. At this early stage in the consultation period, I have received very few responses.

Mr. Livingstone: Has the Home Secretary had time to consider the views of his former colleague, Alan Clark, who wrote in the News of the World dismissing those proposals as a last minute idea? He pointed out that the jury trial is the last line of defence for the ordinary citizen.

Mr. Howard: I always listen very carefully to what Mr. Clark says, because he is perhaps my most distinguished constituent. It is incumbent on me to take his views on all matters extremely seriously. I agree with him on almost everything, but not on that.

Mr. Ashby: This is definitely my last question in the House. My right hon. and learned Friend knows of my opposition and the opposition of many lawyers to restricting the right to jury trial. In his White Paper, he gave as the grounds for such a change the fact that there is too much delay and that that delay must be addressed. Has he considered that such a measure would reduce the delay in the Crown court and increase the delay in the magistrates court? That is what will happen, so there will still be delays in the system.

Mr. Howard: I do not accept my hon. Friend's point. The extraordinary truth is that two thirds of those who elect to go for trial in the Crown court then plead guilty, so they do not avail themselves of the option that they have elected to take. We think that it would speed up justice considerably in the Crown court and the magistrates court if the proposals were accepted. We think that they have merit. We want to listen to what people say about them, and we shall announce our decisions in due course.

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