Habgood rejects Prime Minister's views on crime

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The Independent Online
THE ARCHBISHOP of York, Dr John Habgood, yesterday said John Major had been unwise to say society should condemn rather than understand when dealing with criminal behaviour.

In direct contradiction of the Prime Minister's comments last weekend, Dr Habgood told David Frost, on the Breakfast with Frost programme on BBC-TV, that the Government should attempt to understand the root causes of crime.

Some of it arose out of 'boredom and hopelessness' among those who felt they had no stake in society, he said. He criticised the Government for encouraging a competitive instinct in society.

The Archbishop's intervention, coming at the beginning of a week in which Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, will publish a consultation paper on plans for juvenile offenders, will intensify the debate over offending. On Friday, MPs will debate crime.

Labour also argued yesterday that social conditions play their part in creating crime. Speaking on ITV's Walden programme, Tony Blair, the shadow Home Secretary, said people were more likely to commit offences if they had poor education, few employment opportunities and little hope or stake in society.

Michael Howard, the Environment Secretary, also interviewed by Frost, defended Mr Major and said the Government was doing a great deal to improve conditions in the inner cities: 'You have to confront crime, and you have to confront criminals.'

Dr Habgood said: 'One has to condemn crime: one also has to understand it, because the only long-term way of stopping people being criminals is to understand why they are criminals. There is a streak of badness in everyone.

'I'm not saying that people aren't bad, but often the badness is brought out of them by circumstances, by upbringing, by the sense of boredom, by a sense of hopelessness.'

Some crime, he said, arose from people feeling they had no stake in society. He rejected any direct link between crime and unemployment because criminality was not confined to the unemployed and poor. Dr Habgood went on: 'The Government, with its strong emphasis on competitive success, feeds the notion that in our society, in a sense, we are against each other and one does need some countervailing forces to show that actually true human life is about co-operation.'

He also suggested that better plans were needed to deal with unemployment.

'You have got enormous numbers of people who are paid for doing nothing, and you have an enormous amount to be done in terms of repairing the social and physical fabric of the nation,' he said.

Conservative MPs later criticised Dr Habgood. Graham Riddick, MP for Colne Valley, said he lacked the courage to tackle difficult moral issues and took the easy option of attacking the Government.

'One of the biggest problems facing society is the number of children and teenagers brought up without the restraining and disciplining figure of a father.'

'Many of those youngsters get into crime. Why doesn't the Archbishop pronounce that it is wrong to have children out of wedlock?' he said.