Crime rate shows tenfold increase in past 40 years

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THE CRIME wave has reached the point at which there is now one recorded offence each year for every 10 people in England and Wales - a tenfold increase over the past 40 years.

As yesterday's annual report from the Home Office pointed out, total planned expenditure on the criminal justice system as a whole has doubled in real terms to more than pounds 9bn since the Tories took office in 1979.

The report said: 'In 1991, 5.3 million crimes (excluding criminal damage under pounds 20) were recorded by the police. This compares with 4.4 million crimes in 1990 and 1.6 million in 1970. There has been an upward trend in recorded crime rates since the 1950s.'

Since the 1950s, the number of police has virtually doubled to 127,000, and the percentage clear- up rate has fallen from 46 per cent to 41 per cent in 1979, and 29 per cent in 1991.

Yet a recent issue of the Conservative Research Department's Talking Politics said: 'A safe and secure society must be an objective of any democratic government. For the Conservative Party - the party of law and order - it is a top priority. Crime is a matter of the very deepest concern - concern that must be backed up by practical action.'

In spite of what John Major said in his Carlton Club speech last week, about the crime of the socialist inner cities, the problem spreads right into the heart of the Tory shires. While the number of crimes has more than doubled since the Conservatives took office in 1979, they have trebled in Gloucestershire, Avon and Somerset, Leicestershire, Warwickshire and Norfolk.

The depth of the problem appears to be causing divisions between the Prime Minister and Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary. In a Commons intervention last Thursday, Mr Major said: 'There is no excuse for crime. Society is not to blame, and individuals are.'

The day before, at the Carlton Club, the Prime Minister said crime could not be explained in terms of affluence and poverty. 'It is insulting to those families who may face all the problems of unemployment and yet do not resort to crime,' he said.

Mr Clarke took a different view in an interview on Channel 4 News, saying: 'The way to tackle crime is by training, employment, enterprise programmes of the sort we do, to give young people opportunities, give them hope.'

Tony Blair, the Labour spokesman, said: 'If you bring up people in poor conditions, if there is poor education, bad housing and lack of employment and training opportunities, then crime is more likely to flourish. It doesn't excuse it, but that is simply the reality of the situation.'

The Home Secretary replied: 'We are in danger of agreeing on the analysis. The difference is we do things about it.'

According to the Prime Minister, the Government is considering a new approach 'for a small number of persistent juvenile offenders'. He told the Commons last week: 'We need new powers to put them in secure accommodation where they can be trained for a useful future.'

But as yesterday's report said: 'An important theme of government policy in recent years has been to increase the effectiveness of community sentences and ensure that, especially for young offenders, custody is only used when strictly necessary. Custody involves close association with other offenders. It can confirm as criminals some who experience it - especially impressionable young people . . . Since the mid-1980s, the number of young offenders given custodial sentences has dropped considerably.'

Mr Clarke is also considering a modernisation of the police force - which Mr Blair suspects could be an attempt to shift the blame for increasing crime from the Government to the police.

Last month's Conservative Research Department briefing note on law and order said Mr Clarke had ordered a study of links between police pay and performance, and a review of the police regional organisation . . . 'And he has made it crystal clear that idle or incompetent police officers will not be tolerated.'

Mr Major said in a recent party political broadcast that sentences had been toughened and more police had been put on the beat. 'But it clearly isn't enough. Sometimes I think as a nation we're too tolerant . . There is a difference between right and wrong. And we all need to change the climate against crime.'