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Mr. Etherington: The fact that the number of patients per GP has dropped nationally at a time when the opposite has happened in Sunderland emphasises my point. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his offer to listen to representations from me and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). We shall certainly take advantage of that and arrange an early meeting with him to put our views to him privately.

Mr. Milburn: I am always happy to oblige. It might be useful for us to do that. I shall ask Sunderland health authority to report on and assess as quickly as possible the initiatives that it has taken. As public money is involved, it is important that when new initiatives are set in train, a full evaluation is made of the action that has been taken and whether it has been successful. I shall also ask the health authority to describe in more detail the steps that it considers should be taken in future. We want to help as much as possible.

I give my hon. Friend an assurance that I shall take a personal interest in the issue. I also give him a more general assurance that the Government are determined to ensure that patients in all parts of Britain receive the GP services that they deserve.

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Youth Crime

1.26 pm

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam): I add my congratulations to those of others on your appointment, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Before I go further, I need to declare an interest that I shall record in the Register of Members' Interests. I still serve as a local authority councillor in the London borough of Sutton. I shall make some references to Sutton and some initiatives that the council is taking.

It is appropriate that we are talking today about youth crime, given the early disclosure last week of the 1996 international crime victimisation survey. Whatever the official figures reveal about increases or decreases in crime, there can be no doubt that 18 years of Conservative government have produced a high-crime society. No Home Secretary or Government can be proud of that fact. The House cannot be satisfied or, indeed, safe, until we have taken steps to reduce crime and the fear of crime.

Crime and the fear of crime affect the vulnerable in our society--the elderly, ethnic minorities, disabled people and women. Fear imprisons victims as surely as prison bars imprison offenders. It is important to bear it in mind that the most likely victims of crime are young people between the ages of 19 and 25.

I wish to draw attention to a soundbite that was used before the general election by the then Opposition, now the Government. "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime," was the cry of the present Home Secretary when he was in opposition. I shall seek some reassurances today that one part of that equation has not been lost. Some statements since the election have made me fear that it might have been; that the transition between opposition and government has led the Home Secretary to drop the reference to being tough on the causes of crime. I strongly believe that simply to deal with the effects of crime--with its aftermath--is not an adequate response.

I have no doubt that the Home Secretary is sincere when he talks about being tough on crime, but I urge Ministers to do all that they can to move away from the rhetoric and soundbites of the previous Home Secretary. The rhetoric failed to deal with the causes of crime and was unlikely to do anything to change criminal behaviour.

On the face of it, there is little to oppose in the Government's emphasis on the idea of zero tolerance. However, that strategy fails to address the reality and clutches at what appears to be just one solution to a complex set of problems. I stress that crime is not susceptible to soundbite solutions. We need to attack crime and the causes of crime from as many different directions as possible.

When in opposition, the current Home Secretary paid a number of visits to the United States, in particular New York, to look at the initiatives taken there. Those visits certainly helped to reinforce the image of an iron Home Secretary in waiting. From the further evidence taken from other American cities that have tried the zero tolerance initiative, it is clear that they have not delivered as great a reduction in crime as that recorded in New York. Moreover, other American cities have achieved even bigger reductions in crime without deploying the zero tolerance tactics.

I understand from professionals in this field that one plausible explanation for the reduction in crime in New York is the reduced use of crack cocaine. That drug

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dependency causes many people to commit crime to feed their habit and causes violent and dangerous behaviour. Many professionals, including many of our senior police officers, do not believe that zero tolerance alone is the solution to our crime problems.

I believe that what is necessary for success is to focus not just on the consequences, but on the causes of crime. We need a sophisticated, well-researched and successfully implemented strategy to tackle crime. It should be backed up by practical action carried out in partnership. Partnership is a much used word, indeed, it is becoming one of the buzzwords of the 1990s, but for some of us it has been the foundation of practical action for many years. To that end, I should like to recommend a report published by James Morgan, entitled "Safer Communities". It was commissioned by the previous Government and published in 1991.

There is no better case for the need for partnership in tackling youth crime than that presented in the report. Sadly, it has been left on the shelf to collect dust because of a lack of political will to see it implemented. That report includes the following two recommendations:


I hope that when the Minister responds he will say that the Government intend to enact those recommendations in their crime and disorder Bill so that local authorities are given the statutory force to develop community safety strategies.

My local authority, the London borough of Sutton, has already taken the Morgan report recommendations to heart. In 1993, it appointed a community safety officer and it established a formal partnership with our local police and probation service. In 1994, that group produced a community safety action plan with the clear objectives of reducing the level of crime, lessening the fear of crime and creating a safer environment for community life to flourish.

That first community safety action plan contained 29 specific projects, which were all completed within the designated two-year period. It is important to note that it is not just statutory agencies that are involved in the plan. Our partnership stretches well beyond that to include the voluntary and business sectors, to ensure a genuine strategic approach in Sutton.

The 1994 and 1996 community safety action plans related to youth crime. Those innovative and imaginative schemes, which have been implemented in partnership, have been successful and produced a real reduction in crime. Although one can cast some doubt on the recorded statistics on crime, I believe that the largest reductions in reported crime in Sutton are as a direct result of the council's initiatives.

If the Government are serious about reducing crime committed by young people, we need to understand what drives them to become offenders in the first place. If young people are the problem, they must also be part of

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the solution. That means that young people should be included and consulted when identifying the issues, deciding the strategy and taking action.

Sutton's concern about crime stems from a particular group of young people who committed a large number of burglaries, mostly from retail premises, in my constituency. Back in 1992, they had the effrontery to leave calling cards that read, "999". Unfortunately, their fame was increased out of all proportion due to my predecessor's predilection for generating newspaper headlines. The more that that group of young people breathed the oxygen of publicity, the more crime that they, and other young people who imitated them, started to commit.

In June 1994, my council commissioned some research to find out young people's attitude to crime in order to establish why they committed such acts. That study was undertaken by young people who had been trained in counselling and research. They spent time out on the streets speaking to individuals and gangs of young people. That research showed that although the crimes were committed by a small number of young people, a large proportion of them used a range of drugs which contributed to their criminal behaviour. As a result of that research, the council funded and promoted the Sutton youth awareness programme--YAP. That organisation provides services such as one-to-one counselling and treatment and advice to young people using drugs as well as other substances such as solvents and alcohol. It also set up a programme of preventive workshops in schools and offers training and consultancy for staff who work with young people.

An outreach programme was also established in 1996. It is training a large number of young people to work in outreach teams on the streets with the aim of reducing the level of substance abuse and engaging young people in purposeful activities in their local community.


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