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House of Commons

Monday 5 December 2005

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. Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): What measures he is taking to tackle violent crime. [33819]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): Violent crime as measured under the British crime survey has fallen by 34 per cent. since 1997, but it is still too high, so the Government are undertaking a full range of work that will continue to reduce it. They include measures in the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, which is currently before Parliament. Those measures will give police and local communities the powers that they need to tackle guns, knives and alcohol-related violence.

Mike Penning: The Home Secretary will not have cheered up any of my constituents with that short and complacent comment. Drink abuse has made my town centre a no-go area. My excellent police force is doing its level best to control the situation, but extending licensing hours and abolishing the Hertfordshire constabulary is not the answer. Can the Home Secretary come up with something better?

Mr. Clarke: There is no complacency at all. Our measures, including those in the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, are designed to strengthen our capacity to deal with violent crime. As for the reorganisation of the constabulary, it is a means of conveying more resources to the front line, where they are really needed.

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Crime in Middlesbrough is down by 20 per cent., thanks to the great leadership of chief constable Sean Price and the Cleveland police. Like the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), however, I find that problems in the town centre are serious at times and take up a large amount of resources. Has my right hon. Friend any words of encouragement? Can he give Middlesbrough any financial support so that we can tackle the difficult issue of violent crime, which is definitely on the increase?

Mr. Clarke: I can certainly give words of encouragement. Announcements on police funding will
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be made later today. Moreover, the Violent Crime Reduction Bill contains measures requiring organisations in alcohol disorder zones which are putting pressure on police resources to contribute to the cost of resolving the problems. That is a new departure, and one that is very welcome.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): Tackling violent crime is a major concern in North Shropshire. Is the Home Secretary aware that 88 per cent. of the first 3,000 people to reply to the survey in West Mercia wanted the authority to be strengthened as a strategic authority? Would it not be wise for him to talk to the chief constable directly? May I bring the chief constable to see him to discuss violent crime, and to explain that an enhanced West Mercia—not the ludicrous crashing through of a regional authority that only 12 per cent. of people want—represents the way ahead?

Mr. Clarke: My ministerial colleagues and I have frequently discussed those matters with chief constables and with chairs of police authorities, including the chair and chief constable of West Mercia. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to concern in West Mercia about proposals for a merger with other forces, which has been expressed to me directly. I intend to wait for the conclusions reached by the police following the consultation before deciding how to proceed.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): Millions of women experience crimes of violence. They are beaten, raped, mutilated, murdered and trafficked. I hope that my right hon. Friend will support the "Stop Violence Against Women" campaign. Will he also promote the extension of sexual assault referral centres such as Millfield House, the result of an initiative launched by Derbyshire constabulary and Derbyshire Rape Crisis? It has provided 230 counselling sessions and 100 medical examinations following sexual assaults. Does my right hon. Friend think that such centres may help us to improve on the 5.3 per cent. rate of convictions following prosecutions for rape?

Mr. Clarke: I strongly support the campaign. I also support the centres, whose number we have recently doubled.

My hon. Friend's fundamental point is about giving every individual, particularly women, confidence to deal effectively with these appalling crimes, properly supported by the police. That is the relationship that we must develop, which is why I take amiss some of the ill-informed political sloganising that surrounds some kinds of violent crime. We are trying to ensure that those crimes are reported and dealt with, through the means described by my hon. Friend.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Should action on violent crime not include proper support for victims? Can the Home Secretary explain why victims of violent crime are having to wait more than four years for payments from the criminal injuries compensation scheme in Glasgow?

Mr. Clarke: Certainly, action on violent crime should include proper support. I agree that there are a number of unacceptable delays in payments from the scheme.
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The Government intend to publish later this week detailed proposals for consultation on how we might improve the agency's performance and focus resources more effectively.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Is the Home Secretary aware that in Derbyshire—quite remarkably—crime has fallen in nearly every category for several years running since Labour came to power? The reason is the extra money that has been provided. Would it not be even better, especially in areas where the drug culture is prominent, if Members of Parliament—especially those over there on the Conservative Benches—stopped giving examples of people taking drugs, and others shoving that white stuff up their noses?

Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend makes his point extremely effectively and it is important to emphasise what he says. Crime figures have been coming down, including, I am glad to say, those on crime relating to drug abuse—we are reducing levels of drug crime as well.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con) rose—

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

David Davis: It is good to be back.

The truth is that violent crime has nearly doubled under this Government.

is the Prime Minister's most famous phrase. Alcohol is a major cause of violent crime, but the Government's answer to too much drink, too much of the time, is more drink, all the time. Which of the following quotations does the Home Secretary agree with: that the new 24-hour drinks law is

or that, as a result of that legislation,

Both were said by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Mr. Clarke: I am not sure whether this is the right hon. Gentleman's final Home Office questions, but whether he is on his way up or out, or still here after Christmas, I pay tribute to his commitment to genuine debate in this area—in the hope of gaining him a few more votes in the leadership contest.

First, the right hon. Gentleman is simply wrong when he says that violent crime has doubled. All the facts indicate absolutely clearly that violent crime has reduced. Secondly, is the Licensing Act 2003 serious legislation? It certainly is, as it is designed to encourage responsible drinking and to tackle the kind of activities that we have seen over many years. Thirdly, is it possible that our alcohol reduction campaign pre-Christmas will lead to an increase in recorded alcohol-related crime? It is possible, as the police arrest more people, which is what they are out trying to do.

David Davis: I thank the Home Secretary for his kind words, but it is after the deadline for voting. As for his
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comments on the level of violent crime, I suspect that it will not be the last time today that the Government will rest their case on fiddled figures.

Let us come back to the other major cause of violent crime, which is drugs. Under this Government, both the supply and the use of hard drugs have spiralled out of control. As a result, a report last week from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation showed that professional drug dealers' average income was £7,500 a week—equivalent to a legal income of over £500,000 a year. Is it any wonder that in defence of such lucrative territories we see spiralling violent crime, including knife crime, gun crime, wounding, murders, even killing of innocent bystanders? That is a direct result of the Government's lax drugs policy. Does the Home Secretary believe that his current anti-drugs policy is helping to reduce levels of violent crime and, if so, how?

Mr. Clarke: When the right hon. Gentleman refers to fiddled figures, he should remember that the British crime survey, which he has criticised, was established by a Government of whom he was a part to establish an objective assessment of crime. He should look more carefully at his own record. During the general election, for example, he and his party produced fiddled figures on poster sites throughout the country to such an extent that police protested about what was going on. As for drugs policy, I agree that drugs remain a major source of criminality at all levels and need to be tackled, both at the level of both the organised crime itself and the supply into this country, and at the level of the demand for the drugs. Our drugs policy does that and has led to significant improvements in recent years.

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