Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): I have not spoken in the House for some time and it gives me great pleasure to make a contribution.

I begin by complimenting some of the previous speakers. My hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) made an excellent speech on issues that affect constituents across the country. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friends who made their maiden speeches. I am not in that envious position, but I will pay tribute to my predecessor shortly.

There was a passionate and enthusiastic speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) and a confident and articulate speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps). I look forward to working with both of them on some of the issues they raised. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) made a thoughtful speech, which detailed some of the problems facing his constituency under the Labour Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) gave us a valuable historical insight into the facts of his success and some of the issues that concern him in his London constituency. The hon. Member for Taunton (Jeremy Browne) spoke with kindness about his predecessors in a seat that we shall all watch closely at the next election.

I wanted to speak in the debate on the Queen's Speech earlier this week, but was not successful. I want to put on record my concerns about policing in Norfolk. Before I do so, I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend Baroness Shephard. She worked tirelessly for South-West Norfolk. As a constituent said to me during the campaign:

Those words perfectly sum up my right hon. Friend. The other place will be enriched by her wisdom and experience. It is said that any person one meets in South-West Norfolk knows someone whom my right hon. Friend has helped. I hope, by the work that I undertake in the constituency, that I can aspire to achieve some, if not all, of what she has achieved over the years.

Baroness Shephard rose through the ranks of the Conservative party faster than I can account for here today. Her dedication and diligence resulted in the reward of holding some of the greatest offices of state. She achieved so much by listening to people and reacting to them with energy and enthusiasm. One of the things that she championed was the right for people to feel safe in their homes. Over the years, she has led many debates and tabled many questions on law and order in rural areas.

My constituency covers more than 1,000 square miles of open countryside. As my right hon. Friend said in her maiden speech some years ago,

but the people of Norfolk look to their representatives to articulate their concerns and come up with some solutions. That is why the Conservative party made specific commitments on law and order at the election.

My right hon. Friend debated in the House the lessons learned about rural crime and policing in the aftermath of the Tony Martin case. Like my right hon.
26 May 2005 : Column 910
Friend, I am of the view that police resources are too thinly spread because the Government have focused on the wrong things. The Tony Martin case revealed people's attitudes to policing in rural areas and their ability to protect themselves in their own homes. The Government's centralised control of the police has sapped officers' morale in Norfolk and elsewhere, increased bureaucracy and undermined confidence. It is time that we change direction.

There is no doubt that we must recruit 5,000 extra police officers each year. We must radically cut paperwork and introduce genuine local accountability through elected police commissioners, giving local people a say over police priorities. That will lead to genuine neighbourhood policing, with officers based in the locality and clearly focused on zero tolerance.

Although recorded crime in Norfolk is down, certain categories of offences have witnessed increases. The total number of offences against the person rose in 2004–05 from 11,526 to 12,920—up by 12 per cent. Offences of criminal damage have also increased. Such increases are above the national average, as the Norfolk regional press has noted. The Home Secretary has a seat in the county that is not too far from mine, so that should cause him enormous concern. Given my constituents' real concerns about violent crime, he should display to the House in the coming weeks whether he is confident that the violent crimes Bill is not just more legislation, but will really make a difference. I am not so sure from what I have read about it that it will do the job.

Those problems are compounded by the fact that annual detection rates in Norfolk have shown a consistent decline since 1998–99. In that year, the percentage of detected crimes stood at 37 per cent. By 2003–04, that fell to a mere 26 per cent., suggesting that such crimes remain undetected and that the figures are going in the wrong direction.

The Conservative party made a pledge at the last election that the Norfolk constabulary would receive an additional 457 police officers over the next eight years, of which the South-West Norfolk constituency would get an extra 63 officers. I hope that the Home Secretary will come to the House in due course and give a pledge to my constituents that the Government will increase police numbers in Norfolk to match Conservative plans.

We also made it plain at the election that criminals who are caught should be punished properly. Therefore, we must end the Government's early release from prison scheme and provide 20,000 extra prison places. We must introduce honesty in sentencing so that criminals serve the full sentence handed down by the court and so that we deliver in open court the minimum time that they will serve behind bars.

Will the Government confirm that the Management of Offenders and Sentencing Bill, proposed in the Queen's Speech, will contain a provision to enable the Sentencing Guidelines Council to have regard to prison capacity? If it does, will the Home Secretary put on record whether he believes that sentencing should be determined by the crime and not by the number of prison places available?

Nationally, 4,500 crimes have been committed by criminals let out on early release by the Government and 500 of those were violent crimes. That figure is an
26 May 2005 : Column 911
outrage and must be stopped. Will the Government abolish the early release scheme? What do the Home Secretary and his Ministers have to say to the victims of the 4,500 offences, including 500 violent crimes, committed by persons on early release since 1999?

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) said recently:

I support his sentiments. People think that the position we are in is absurd and they must be able to feel safe in their own homes. If a criminal breaks in, people must be able to defend themselves and, in doing so, must have no fear of the law.

In the last Session of the previous Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), the shadow Minister for homeland security, proposed a Bill to give greater protection to householders who use force against burglars in the prevention of crime. My hon. Friend said that the fear of imprisonment or physical harm lay with the householder and that the intention of the Bill was to reverse that, because those fears should lie with the burglar. It is a pity that the Bill was not successful and was not supported by the Government.

In The Daily Telegraph on 4 December 2004, Sir John Stevens, the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner, argued that those who defend their families and property should face prosecution over injuries to intruders only in extreme circumstances if they can be shown to have used gratuitous violence. The Government will know that there is still considerable anxiety and confusion among my constituents and others about the degree of force that they may use legitimately against an intruder to defend themselves without finding themselves subject to prosecution.

I should like the Home Secretary to address another problem. Does he think that the guidance issued to householders earlier this year on the use of force is sufficient to resolve their doubts? Do the Government intend to revisit this issue and consider changing the law to give householders greater protection?

The Government promised that 5,000 antisocial behaviour orders would be issued every year. We have not reached that figure after six years and, of those issued, nearly half have been breached. They are effectively worthless. We need proper policing by officers on the street who are not tied down by paperwork and bureaucracy. I must ask the Home Secretary whether the Government accept that ASBOs are no substitute for real policing.

Next Section IndexHome Page