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7.35 p.m.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, almost all of those who have spoken in this debate have congratulated our three maiden speakers. I should also like to do that. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, and my noble friend Lord Dubs knew that they would be congratulated because in this Palace of varieties that is what we do to artists who are making their first appearance. But we do not always ask them back in the way in which all three of our maiden speakers have been asked back today. They will understand, from the genuine pleasure and approval that has been generated by their speeches, that we very much hope that we shall see them again. We know that they are all very busy. We know that the main job of the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, is to save the British film industry, and we quite understand if he has to go away now and again in order to do that.

I wish to explore the assumptions behind the policies in the gracious Speech for dealing with the continued rise in crime figures. I do not blame the Government for those figures; but I blame them for the fact that they have not been able to do anything about them. They have been rising at roughly the same rate since the early 1970s through different kinds of governments. I ask how far this Government accept the link which my noble friend Lord McIntosh sought to argue between particular sorts of crime figures and the social and economic environment.

Nobody can say that this Government have not pursued the crime figures. Since this Government came into office, there have been more than 10 Bills dealing with the criminal law, and there are more proposals in the pipeline, some of which were mentioned in the gracious Speech. This Government do things about the framework of criminal law almost as frequently as they do things about trade union law, social security benefits and privatisation. The difference is that it is not so easy to see what is the link between the Government's overall ideology and obsession with the market and what they do in the field of crime prevention. That is the question that I wish to explore this evening.

If one leaves aside the funny people who have funny theories about crime--the Freudians, the Calvinists, the Moonies--there are three broad theories about crime statistics and why they go up and down. As far as I can see, the Government's argument seems to be the first of these: the inadequate punishment theory. They believe that if they could lock the criminals up for long enough, they would become discouraged and there would not be any crime, or at least, the crime figures would start to decline and go the other way.

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The second argument relates to declining moral standards, and I shall say a few words about that later. (That is rather a Right-wing theory). The Left-wing theory relates to relative deprivation, perceived injustice, unemployment, poverty and that sort of thing. It is easy to see that it is difficult for this Government to embrace the third of the theories.

The present Home Secretary--unlike the last Home Secretary but four, who was, I think, Mr. Hurd--focuses very much on inadequacy of punishment. The present Home Secretary said that "prison works". He told us during the debate on the gracious Speech on 18th November that there is to be a working paper based on the:

    "resounding affirmation ... that proper punishment should follow crime as surely as night follows day"--[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/94; col. 242.]

The present Home Secretary wants more cautions, more prosecutions, longer sentences and more austere conditions. He wants fewer privileges, less leave, no automatic release and a form of hard labour for community sentences.

However, I should like to know whether the Government have undertaken a costing exercise on the matter. As we were told earlier in the debate this afternoon by my noble friend Lord McIntosh, there has been a small increase in the prison population and that has been ferociously expensive--

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I trust that my noble friend will permit me to intervene. I do not believe that an increase from 42,000 to 52,000 can be called very small.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, it is small when one considers that the crime rate is rising by 7 per cent., 8 per cent. or 9 per cent. per year. It is small in comparison to the task to be undertaken if we wanted to bang everyone up. I am saying that would go very much against the general policy of the Government regarding public expenditure. In fact, I suggest that the Government do not really believe it is possible. The problem is that they cannot bring themselves to say anything else.

I turn now to the other arguments. The second argument is that the problem with the crime figures is that they are affected by declining moral standards. If one looks around the Chamber this evening, it will be understood why I have to be careful how I argue this case. Indeed, I am not sure that I want to put it forward. There are many changes that we could say we want to see if we wanted to improve moral standards; and, indeed, if we could agree on what an improvement in moral standards would look like. For example, we could talk about what we might do about the divorce laws and about all kinds of incentives to preserve the sanctity of marriage. Alternatively, the Government might want to do something about single mothers. I do not know.

However, if one thinks about it, it becomes quite clear that the last thing this Government are actually going to advocate--they are not quite that foolish--is legislation to improve the British electorate's moral standards. Some time ago they used to say that perhaps an example should be set. In fact, Back to Basics involved them in

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setting an example but they have rather gone off that policy recently for obvious reasons. However, if one does not believe--and I do not--that everyone can be banged up or that one can legislate to improve declining moral standards, one returns to the third general argument; namely, relative deprivation and perceived injustice.

I do not want to say that all crime figures can be related to that general cause. Indeed, I believe it is arguable that there is much crime which has very little to do with poverty or unemployment. It is arguable that the fastest growing area of crime depends on employment. For example, in embezzlement, fraud, robbery, tax evasion, bribery and sleaze, one has to be employed. Moreover, for the most part, one has to be in very good employment; in other words, in a position of relative power. Moreover if we dealt with crime of the other kind--what is sometimes called working-class crime--and if we raised the standards of everyone's life, it could be argued that, if we did not get a rise in moral standards at the same time, we would get even more embezzlement, fraud, bribery, tax evasion and sleaze.

I am saying something much more limited than that; I am saying that there are areas in which there is a considerable body of evidence to show that there is a direct link between certain types of crime and certain types of deprivation. The clearest, hardest and most direct set of evidence deals with property crime and long-term unemployment among young males. There is a considerable number of macro studies--for example, the Cambridge studies and many others--which show, for example, that the rate of crime among young males and among males generally decreases and increases within the economic cycle. That is especially so as regards the late 1980s and 1990s.

There is other evidence--for example, macro studies in 41 or 42 police districts in England and Wales--which associates high crime figures with high unemployment and particularly high rates of crime among young workers suffering from long-term unemployment. If one lists the areas of high deprivation, such as Merseyside, Northumbria, South Yorkshire and South Wales, it will be seen that they are also the areas which have high rates of young male property crime.

There is also evidence of a disproportionate amount of property crime involving young male unemployed workers. However, because such studies are empirical, they tend to give different answers. One study indicates that 40 per cent. of offenders regarding property crime are the young unemployed, while another study suggested that a sample of 70 per cent. of offenders were young and long-term unemployed. We also know that there are 250,000 young male workers under the age of 24 who have been out of work for over six months. We know that there are 140,000 male young workers under the age of 24 who have been out of work for over a year. We also know that by the age of 31, one-third of young males has one or more convictions and that 5 per cent. of those in one sample, most of whom were unemployed, had two-thirds of the total convictions. In the light of evidence of this kind, I suggest that the link between young male workers and

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property crime is too general, too plausible, too logical and too much in conformity with common sense for anyone seriously to doubt it.

Let us suppose that we were able to persuade the Government that there is something in that argument. What kind of policies would they adopt? I should make it clear that I am not suggesting what policies the Labour Party might adopt. I want to be realistic; I am talking about the present Government. I am not asking for anything that this Government could not conceivably do. However, if they were persuaded, what could they do? First, they could come to one, if you like, negative conclusion. They could appreciate the fact that if their recovery arrives, grows and blossoms so that they achieve 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. growth over three or four years, it would do nothing whatever for this problem. The increase in employment that the Government will see through general economic growth will I am afraid--and when I say "I am afraid", I do not mean that I am sorry: it is a fact--be for the most part enjoyed in reform of increased employment opportunities by part-time working women. It will do very little for men.

One of the least known facts about the British unemployment situation is that for all practical purposes, in terms of its hard core, it is a male problem. We have 9 per cent. unemployment and 12.5 per cent. unemployment among males, with an even higher rate than that among young males. Long-term immovable unemployment is very largely a male problem. Moreover, a marginal increase in growth will not solve the problem. What we need to do is positively to expand jobs. We must create jobs in a positively discriminatory way, directed at young males.

The Government would have to look at community action and make it much much bigger than the miserable 50,000 places applying after 12 months. They would have to start a general scheme for training for work, not the endless pilot penny-ha'penny scheme that they are currently running. They would have to direct some of their capital spending towards the employment of young males. Where do young males get employed? They are employed in the construction industry. The Government would have to engineer deliberately and specifically an increase in capital projects in the construction industry, in the belief and hope that that would do something about male unemployment. If possible, it should be done in areas of high unemployment.

However, one thing that they could not do is continue with the reduction in the size of the public sector labour force, especially the unskilled or semi-skilled labour force in the public service sector. This is scheduled to take another 500,000 people off to the employment exchange, three-quarters of whom may well be men. They could positively address themselves to the true problem of unemployment and the link between crime and unemployment among young males.

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