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Young Offenders Institution, Colchester

12. Mr. Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the future of the young offenders institution at Colchester military corrective training centre. [926]

Mr. George Howarth: As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Government are committed to finding out what works in the prison system. In line with that, we have decided that the Colchester experiment will run to the end of the year, when it is due to be concluded. In the light of that experience, we will decide on its long-term future.

Mr. Russell: Does the Minister agree that both the Prison Service and the military authorities were opposed to the establishment of the boot camp in Colchester? Although both military and prison staff should be congratulated, does he accept that the prime reason for the military establishment being foisted on Colchester in the run-up to the general election had more to do with a very expensive face-saving exercise by the former Home Secretary? Will the experiment run until the end of the calendar year or the financial year? Will he make it the sooner of the two? How does the cost of the Colchester institution compare with that of a normal institution?

Mr. Howarth: Irrespective of how the establishment came about, the point is that, if the Government were to try to reverse the decision, all the money that has already been spent on it would be wasted, so it obviously makes sense to allow the establishment to complete its first year. By first year I mean the full first year of its operation. On comparable costs, the establishment is marginally more expensive than, for example, a young offenders institution. Any establishment with such a highly structured regime will be more expensive. The cheapest way of keeping prisoners is to lock them up and do nothing with them. That is not what we intend. We shall certainly look at the results of the experiment to see whether there are any wider applications.

Mr. Whittingdale: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the high rate of reoffending among young offenders suggests that the present system is not working and that anything that can bring it down is likely to be good value for money? Is he aware of the considerable success in remotivating and rehabilitating service offenders at the military corrective training centre and that, contrary to the suggestion of the hon. Member for

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Colchester (Mr. Russell), the staff at the MCTC are convinced that they can remotivate and rehabilitate civilian offenders by employing the same methods?

Mr. Howarth: I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's point that we should look at the results and see how the two systems compare. That is precisely the point that I made. There are no easy options in dealing with young offenders. One of the things to which the Government are absolutely committed is breaking the link between young people and crime and all the things that lead to young people becoming involved in crime. We will find out what works, and what works is precisely what we will implement to deal with the problem.

Closed Circuit Television Schemes

13. Mr. St. Aubyn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how much money his Department plans to set aside over the next five years to provide for CCTV schemes. [927]

Mr. Michael: Our manifesto made it clear that for the next two years we will work within the ceilings on departmental expenditure that have already been announced. We are reviewing existing expenditure programmes and reassessing priorities to ensure that we make best use of the resources available. A decision on whether there will be another closed circuit television challenge competition in 1997-98 will be made later in the summer.

Mr. St. Aubyn: Given the huge success of CCTV, which in Guildford alone has cut street crime in the city centre by more than a third in one year, and the popularity of the previous Government's pledge to spend £75 million on CCTV in this Parliament, why is the Minister being so evasive, and why is he failing to live up to his party's promises on the subject? Are not the Government being weak on crime and weak on crime prevention?

Mr. Michael: We will be tough on inappropriate soundbites. The hon. Gentleman should show some respect for the fact that we are keeping our manifesto commitments whereas the former Home Secretary gave promises during the election campaign for which he had not made allowance during his period in office. We will assess whether next year's money--this year's money was completely allocated before we took office--would be best used on CCTV alone or whether it could be better used in other ways. We have inherited a limited financial situation from the previous Government, but we will ensure that we use the available money to prevent and tackle crime in a way that the Conservative Government failed to do.

Mrs. Dunwoody: Before my hon. Friend spends £75 million, will he make a careful assessment of how effective CCTV is in controlling crime; whether it displaces crime to other areas that are unable to deal with it; and what implications it has for the protection of human rights?

Mr. Michael: People feel safer with CCTV and, fortunately, there have been few abuses of its provision. I supported the provision of CCTV in my local town

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centre and it is of value in wider community safety and crime prevention. It is not a magic wand that will do everything; other issues of crime prevention need to be tackled also. For that reason, we will review the available expenditure and we intend to ensure that it is used to the best result for the future protection of the public.

Violent Crime

15. Mr. William O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what proportion of violent crime resulted in prosecution in (a) 1979 and (b) the latest period for which figures are available. [929]

Mr. Michael: In 1979, 59 per cent. of recorded violent crimes resulted in prosecutions. In 1995, the figure was down to 35 per cent.

Mr. O'Brien: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and wish him well in his new post. It is significant that violent crime almost trebled under the Conservative Government, while prosecutions fell by more than half. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Labour Government have inherited an appalling legacy from the Conservatives? We have more violent crime and more people getting away with violent crime. Will he assure me that resources will be afforded to West Yorkshire police to help them continue their strenuous efforts to reduce violent crime in our local communities?

Mr. Michael: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. He is right to highlight the previous Government's failure. Nothing could illustrate that failure more than the way crime increased, yet the number of people convicted and punished fell. The fall in prosecution rates is a serious matter and we will address it through our plans to increase the efficiency of the Crown Prosecution Service and other steps that will enable the police, the courts and other agencies to be more successful in tackling and preventing crime. We believe that the police have been overwhelmed in recent years by bureaucracy and the increasing crime rate; we intend to ensure that they can make better use of existing resources to prevent crime, catch criminals and increase public safety.

Probation Service

16. Mr. Hinchliffe: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what proposals he has for the future of the probation and after care service. [930]

Ms Joyce Quin: The probation service plays a central role in our strategy for the criminal justice system and for reducing crime. We will work with the service to ensure that community sentences and punishments are a credible option when it is not necessary to send an offender to prison.

Mr. Hinchliffe: I welcome my hon. Friend and her team to their new posts, and I hope that their appointment results in a radically different philosophy at the Home Office from that of the past 18 years--building more and more prisons for more and more crime. With that in mind, will they look in detail at the reparation and mediation schemes operated successfully by West Yorkshire

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probation service, which has addressed the issue of cutting reoffending, particularly by young offenders? Will my hon. Friend consider the value of the probation service in working to develop alternatives to imprisonment for a vast number of offenders?

Ms Quin: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. I can give him the assurance he seeks. We are aware of the good work in West Yorkshire. We want to promote good practice in the probation service and increase awareness across the country.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin: Will the Minister pay tribute to the probation service in Essex, which has demonstrated that a probation order is not a soft option? Does she agree that it is not necessary for a probation officer to have a degree in social work?

Ms Quin: I am happy, although rather surprised, to endorse the hon. Gentleman's point about Essex. I further agree with his point about qualifications. We are in discussion with representatives of the probation service and others about how best to take the issue forward, given the unfortunate vacuum created by the previous Government.

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