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House of Commons

Monday 8 December 2003

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Violent Crime

1. Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): What measures the Government are taking to combat the rise in violent crime. [142084]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): Contrary to the thrust of the question, the internationally respected British crime survey showed that violent crime fell by 5 per cent. last year. Recorded crime rose, however, as more people were prepared and confident enough to register crimes that they would not have reported before. We published the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill last Tuesday. Twenty-five per cent. of all violent crime is perpetrated in the home, and therefore involves domestic violence issues. As people's confidence in the system increases, however, so will the recording of such crime, and I am pleased and proud of that.

Mr. Baron : I thank the Home Secretary for his response but, despite his excuses, the general public know that violent crime is significantly on the increase. During the past five years, it has been recorded that violent crime has risen by nearly two thirds. Home Office figures for last year alone suggest that, in my area, robbery was up by a third, burglary was up by a half and violence against the person more than doubled. When will the Government stop their gimmicky initiatives and go to war against the criminals by introducing much stiffer court sentences and a massive increase in the numbers of police on the streets? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Blunkett: Burglary and robbery are down according both to the British crime survey and to the recorded crime figures but, yes, violent crime has risen, which is why we need to get a grip on binge drinking and to take decisive action on the enforcement of breaches. It is also why the antisocial behaviour measures that we have put in place need to work on the ground. Let me be absolutely clear: the new transparent recording system now records crimes that have never before been

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designated as violent, and that have not hitherto been recorded. That was brought in not by us but by the Association of Chief Police Officers in 2000–01, and it has inevitably led to a much more visible and transparent system. If we are going to have a sensible debate about crime, that at least should be recognised.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): As my right hon. Friend has rightly said, 25 per cent. of violent crimes take place in the home. In addition, he will be aware that, on average, two women a week die as a result of domestic violence. Can he tell me what measures in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill will protect women and intervene to stop the ever-increasing circle of violence?

Mr. Blunkett: We spelled out in the statement that I made in July, and again in the Bill last Tuesday, a range of measures that will ensure not only early intervention but, in the case of a continuing problem, the exclusion of a person from the family and the neighbourhood. The idea, which is now gaining salience, that the perpetrator should move out, rather than the woman and the children, is one that we can all welcome.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): Given the success and importance of Crimestoppers in solving crimes, does the Home Secretary agree that it would make sense to give it a budget projected forward over four years, rather than forcing it to rely on an annual payment that it may or may not receive?

Mr. Blunkett: I am all in favour of being encouraged by Opposition Members—not least the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson)—in terms of extra public spending, the partnership with the voluntary sector and civic renewal. I think that it makes sense, in relation to our arrangements with all such helpful voluntary activity, to have a continuity of budget over more than a 12-month period.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is fully aware that, when we speak of violent crime, much is said about gun crime. Over the weekend, I read a sickening newspaper article with which I had great difficulty in coming to terms. It was about what appears to be an increase in crimes committed using knives, machetes and axes, some of which could be gangland crime. What do the crime figures tell us about the use of such weapons?

Mr. Blunkett: I will write to my hon. Friend with the exact figures relating to violent crimes involving the use of weapons of that description. He will be aware that action was taken in the late 1990s to strengthen the law in relation to the availability and use of knives, but we should not forget that issue, bearing in mind the understandable attention that we and the public pay to gun crime.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): May I seek your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, on a non-violent topic? I add the congratulations of Conservative Members to those of hundreds of thousands of people elsewhere in London who are cheering on the English rugby team for their success.

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The Home Secretary referred to his comment on 27 June 2001, when he said that

He has talked about transparency. All we have heard today are transparent excuses. For the first time in the history of the United Kingdom, more than 1 million violent crimes have been recorded. Has not he failed to restore people's confidence in our system?

Mr. Blunkett: First, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity in getting the rugby celebrations into this afternoon's questions. I agree with him entirely. I have always thought that a little pushing and shoving on the rugby field was better than a bit of shoving and pushing on a Saturday night.

I agree with myself, because I agree with the quote that the right hon. Gentleman read out. That is paramount. I know that the Leader of the Opposition would agree with those sentiments, because when he was Home Secretary recorded crime under the old system went up by 19 per cent.

David Davis: Overall violent crime is not the only area of concern. Under Labour, gun crime has more than doubled. Will the Home Secretary explain why the number of gun crimes has passed 10,000 for the first time in British history? Does he intend to do anything about the plague of imported handguns that we are witnessing at the moment?

Mr. Blunkett: I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Conservative party opposed the legislation on handguns introduced by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary when he was Home Secretary. We took action in the recent Criminal Justice Bill, because the difficulty is that what is legal or illegal depends on who has their hands on the weaponry. The amnesty that we held in April was the most successful amnesty ever, with more than 44,000 guns handed in.

David Davis: Answer the question.

Mr. Blunkett: The answer is clearly to prevent people from being able to get hold of replicas or to get hold of and to adapt Brocock guns, and that should be part of the new legislation. I would have thought that everyone supported that. There is an underlying issue for all of us: it is not a party political issue. The growth in gun crime arises out of gangs, often associated with drugs, getting their hands on guns from outside the country and on formerly legal guns inside the country. All of us have to work in partnership with the police—as communities have done in north London and Manchester—to change the culture and the behaviour of young men in particular and to clamp down on the organised thuggery that lays behind these problems. We can all agree on wanting that to succeed.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that domestic violence in our constituencies is often the result of the misuse of alcohol and alcohol-related problems. In my constituency, partnerships between the police and groups such as the Women's Refuge have done some

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positive work. What wider partnerships will help us to fight the awful violence that takes place every weekend in our constituencies?

Mr. Blunkett: My hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety brought from her previous role in the Department of Health the embryo of an alcohol misuse strategy. She and I are working on that, in order to publish in the new year something radical and effective that will assist at local level in ensuring that we clamp down on binge drinking and on the misuse of alcohol in general, which can cause so much misery. I may be called Scrooge as well as everything else, but perhaps this is the moment for me to appeal to people to be moderate in their drinking leading up to Christmas while also having a wonderful time.

Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): On the issue of alcohol, 47 per cent. of violent crime is the result of the overuse of alcohol, and 92 per cent. of policemen have been attacked by drunks. Why is it that, although the Government promised the alcohol strategy paper in 1998, we have had to wait so long for it?

Mr. Blunkett: My hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety assures me that we are on schedule for the 2004 date. That is a publicly stated objective. It is sometimes necessary to wait while the yolk comes out of the egg. As long as it makes a decent omelette, the waiting will have been worth while.

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