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Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Does the Minister agree that the real problem with the policy of zero tolerance is that many people involved with tackling youth crime tend to feel that it leads to zero understanding of why young people become involved in crime in the first place? That, in turn, leads to zero respect and creates a vicious circle.

Mr. Michael: Yes, I do see that. Some people do not want to understand what is happening. They should listen to the detail of what is being said, which brings us back to the phrase, "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime." One of the causes of crime is a general feeling that nobody cares very much--it does not matter what happens and slight misbehaviour does not matter--which runs on into worse behaviour and more serious offences. A proper understanding should lead people, whether they want a policy of punishment, one of prevention, or a proper balance between the two, to the message contained in the phrase, "zero tolerance", which is that we should not put up with increasing levels of crime and bad behaviour and a feeling of being unsafe in one's home or on the street. That is the message that needs to be got across and understood.

Mr. Burstow: The Minister may have partially addressed the point I planned to raise, but I shall build on it nevertheless. In a sense, zero tolerance has already been defined in a way that does not coincide with what the Government say it means; it is open to misinterpretation or misunderstanding. In the past, it has been misunderstood and applied in a way that might even have led to riots in this country. Will the Minister consider other ways of describing the strategy and tactics involved, so that the Government do not risk being misunderstood when they talk about zero tolerance?

Mr. Michael: In the mother of Parliaments, it is right that we should look at the way in which we explain our policies and try to find better ways of expressing ourselves, but there is a definition of zero tolerance--the one that I have described--that is clearly understood and that has elicited a positive response from both the police and the public. That is the concept on which we need to work. We must get across the idea that one can do something about crime and disorder, that communities can be reclaimed and that the partnerships between the police and local authorities to which the hon. Gentleman referred can be built.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the importance of the Morgan report, which was published by the previous Government and not so much left gathering dust on a shelf as buried deep under a large pile of earth. The previous Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), was unable to mention local government without becoming increasingly sibilant and looking rather frustrated. It is clear that it is not simply a matter of giving a duty or responsibility to local authorities, because, as in Sutton and in most parts of the country, local authorities have moved on and already accept that they have that duty and responsibility.

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That acceptance has been driven by the experience of crime among councillors and the people who have been to see them and by the fact that there is now a lot more crime around than there was even when the Morgan report was published. Current levels of crime are unacceptable.

In Croydon, where one of my new colleagues, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies), was a leading member of the council when it became a local authority, a speedy move was made to put community safety and working with the police high up on the agenda. We have reached the stage at which local authorities and the police recognise that the issue is important to both of them and that a partnership approach has to be developed.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam was right to say that "partnership" is easy to say, but hard to put into effect. Personal partnerships have to be worked on--they do not just happen--and that is also true of partnerships between the police and local authorities. Such partnerships must involve both parties together identifying problems of crime in their area, together identifying the strategies needed to tackle those problems and together delivering that strategy. It is also important that the partnership is between the police, the local authority and the local community, which includes not only the resident community, but voluntary organisations and the business community.

I join the hon. Gentleman in saying that it is appropriate that we are discussing this issue during volunteers week. Yesterday, I took the opportunity to join the Women's Royal Voluntary Service for a session of pouring tea--[Interruption.] I shall be happy to give the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) a demonstration later if he likes. The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam referred to volunteers contributing to their local community, perhaps by recognising the need for a youth club in the area, or the need to confront local youths about their behaviour and find more positive activities for them and for younger children so that they do not start to get involved in the pattern of crime.

I can reveal that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border and I spent some time together this morning in a way of which even the Liberal Democrats would approve. We were going through the applications for the Prudential youth action awards, the result of which will be announced in July. I hope that they will engender a great deal of interest, because we saw improving standards in the entries and creative responses to the problems that were being tackled. Young people themselves were identifying problems such as bullying or drugs and coming up with solutions to those problems in their local area.

When other young people talk to children about such problems, it is far more convincing than when those of us who are well over the hill are talking--almost from the beyond the grave--and telling them what to do. Young people have a power among those younger than them within their generation--say, a couple of years younger--that is extremely important. Without giving away any secrets regarding the results of the awards, I was particularly impressed by the way in which many of the applicants were looking forward to developing what they had learnt while doing this year's project. That is an excellent example of a widening pool of young people who understand, not only that there is a problem, but that they are part of the solution. We will be making progress

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if we as a society can encourage young people to be a part of the solution, as the Prudential youth action awards do, and encourage them to feel that they can do something about the nature and quality of the community in which they live.

I have concentrated on responding to the points raised by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, but I came prepared to make some other remarks because it is important that the debate should be balanced. There are problems with crime that have simply not been tackled. We have proposed community safety orders, whereby we can tackle the problem of neighbourhoods being plagued by continual anti-social behaviour, perhaps by a family or a group of families. The persistent harassment of a community can devastate people's lives and that is why we have proposed that local authorities and the police should be able to seek this new order from the courts. The order will be addressed to a named individual or individuals and focus on behaviour that has caused distress or fear to neighbours. Those named in the orders will be told clearly what it is they must not do or where they must not go. The trigger for harassment and bad behaviour may well include racial antagonism and the order could help in such circumstances.

That is an example of a problem that has not been addressed in recent years, yet as soon as we started to talk about it, hon. Members on both sides of the House said, "Yes, there is such a family on one of my estates," or, "I have heard complaints about this sort of thing." The police and local authorities have not had the equipment to tackle the problem and we hope to put that right in our crime and disorder Bill.

Above all, we want to speed up the youth justice system. The scandal was identified by the Audit Commission last year, but those of us who have had any association with youth justice have known of the problems for far longer. It takes far too long for youngsters who have been caught to be brought before the courts and punished. That sends out all the wrong messages--it tells young offenders that nobody cares, that nothing much will happen if they misbehave. Repeat cautioning had the same effect. We have to tighten up the system so that, as with one's own children, young offenders are punished today--not tomorrow or in six months' time. We need to introduce that sense of urgency to the way in which we punish young people when they go wrong, as well as trying to prevent them from getting involved in crime in the first place or diverting them quickly if they do start down that path. Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.

It being Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Sitting suspended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 10 (Wednesday sittings), till half-past Two o'clock.

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