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Electronic Tagging

11. Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting): What assessment he has made of the pilot tagging schemes. [48405]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): Research into the first two years of the pilot schemes of curfew orders enforced by electronic monitoring under the Criminal Justice Act 1991 has been published as a Home Office research study. The study indicates that the technology works--which is just as well--and that over 80 per cent. of orders were successfully completed. Further, more detailed research is being undertaken.

Mr. Cox: While I note my right hon. Friend's reply, does he agree that, as the scheme is developed and the proper supervision and safeguards are put in place, we should welcome it as an alternative to prison? At what age can a person be electronically tagged?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's welcome for the measure. It is certainly an appropriate alternative to prison for some offenders, not least because of the cost, which is less than £2,000 per order, compared with some £25,000 a year for a period of imprisonment. My hon. Friend asked at what age a person can be electronically tagged. We are piloting the use of electronic monitoring tags for 10 to 15-year-olds and, so far, 10 orders have been issued in respect of juveniles.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove): I was struck by the Home Secretary's comment that 80 per cent. of cases were deemed to be successful. Can he explain what happened in the other 20 per cent. of cases, so that the House might know what went wrong?

Mr. Straw: They were unsuccessful. Since the hon. Lady asks, of 973 sentences that were completed, 163 were revoked. If an offender breaks the conditions of the electronic monitoring, he or she is taken back to court and, typically, will be sent to prison.

Arrested Suspects (Drug Use)

12. Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East): What proportion of people arrested by the police are addicted to heroin and other opiates. [48406]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Howarth): The information that my hon. Friend seeks is not centrally available. However, a recent Home Office study on drug misuse by samples of people arrested in five cities showed that 18 per cent. tested positive for opiates; 11 per cent. admitted dependency on heroin; and a further six per cent. admitted dependency on methadone.

Mr. Purchase: Those are alarming figures, despite the fact that they are not as highly refined as the Minister

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would like them to be. Will he undertake to oppose the legalisation of heroin and other opiates, not least because that might encourage international profit-seeking pharmaceutical companies to divert production into ever more expensive, highly addictive designer drugs, and those with personality disorders may be pushed into crime in order to afford the ever escalating cost of their fixes?

Mr. Howarth: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The only certain result of legalising--or, rather, decriminalising--currently illegal drugs is that more people would use them. My hon. Friend is right to say that the companies that manufacture such drugs would inevitably spend large sums in aggressively marketing them and targeting a younger audience.

My hon. Friend is also right about so-called "designer drugs". I wish to make a simple point with which the whole House will agree: young people should not be deceived into believing that something labelled a designer drug is safe. All the evidence is that the results of individual cases are totally unpredictable. We have seen far too many examples of young people believing that it is safe to take one designer drug or another, sometimes with tragic consequences. No drug is safe. The only safe way to proceed is not to take drugs.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking): Does the Minister accept that at least 50 per cent. of those who appear in court charged with domestic burglary are drug addicts who burgle to feed their habit? Does not that figure show that it is a critical problem in our criminal justice system, which is why it is important to ensure that firm treatment is available to deal with those people, particularly in prison? Will he couple that with his aim to make prisons drug-free zones?

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman raised his latter point ingeniously on the back of the question, but it is a fair point. The statistics that he quoted--court figures, showing that about 55 per cent. of those convicted of certain types of offences had committed the offence in circumstances that were drug-related--broadly bear out the Home Office research I mentioned, which shows that about two thirds of arrestees for acquisitive crimes are found to have been involved in drugs.

The links between drugs and, especially, acquisitive crime are now so firm that no one can doubt them. It is important that we act as decisively as possible; that is why, in the Crime and Disorder Bill, we are giving the courts the option of making a drug testing and treatment order. That will not be a soft option, but it will give courts the ability to catch those cases and, in suitable instances, to say to the offender, "You need treatment, but we shall not let you pretend that that is happening when it is not, so there will need to be proper testing to ensure that the treatment is going ahead." That is a good step forward, which has widespread support. I believe that it shows how determined we are to tackle that serious problem.

Fire and Police Service Pensions

14. Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford): What plans he has to change fire and police pension arrangements. [48408]

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The Minister of State, Home Office (

Mr. Alun Michael): On 31 March, we published consultation documents on the police and fire service pension schemes. We have invited comments on those consultation documents by the end of July. We shall listen carefully to the comments that we receive, in considering changes to the pension arrangements for new entrants to the police and fire services and to medical retirement procedures.

Mr. Beard: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he recall that proposals for closing Shooters Hill fire station, which covers part of my constituency, arose out of difficulties in financing the London fire brigade's pension funds? Will he ensure that, in any future arrangements that are made, pension fund arrangements do not influence the strength or disposition of fire services or police services in any part of London?

Mr. Michael: My hon. Friend makes a serious point, and I can understand the difficulty that confronts people when local decisions have an impact on the local community. However, there is no magic wand for dealing with the burden of pensions. It would cost about £30 billion to provide a fully funded pension scheme for the police and the fire service, and I suspect that hon. Members on both sides of the House would have other priorities for such sums of money.

There are vast variations in the extent to which ill health retirement pensions act as a drain on the resources of both the police and the fire service. That problem will not go away; it requires good management of the available resources and careful consideration of the options set out in our consultation papers.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): Does the Minister agree with the Police Federation and the Fire Brigades Union that it would be unacceptable for two police officers or firefighters, together killed or seriously injured in the line of duty, to have different entitlements to injury benefit, or for the widow and family of one to be paid less pension and other benefits than the family of the other? Notwithstanding the need to review the police and fire service pension schemes, that view is common to both sides of the House, and there is cross-party agreement, especially on the need to eliminate abuse in the area of ill health, which the Minister mentioned.

Does the Minister agree that the dangers faced every day by policemen and firefighters demand and deserve special consideration? The public would find it very difficult to understand it if, when such a tragedy occurred, the widow or family of one had less benefit entitlement than the other. Will he please bear that in mind in his review?

Mr. Michael: I shall certainly bear in mind the points that the hon. Gentleman makes when we consider the outcome of the review. I believe that all hon. Members would accept that police officers and firefighters place themselves in danger in order to protect the public; that is why their schemes are more generous than other pension schemes. I make the point gently, however, that, after the Sheehy report was published, it was the Conservative party that started the differentials between people serving together in different areas. Those differentials are among the difficult issues that must be tackled. If changes are desirable, they cannot be made for those already serving.

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Consequently, if one were to accept the logic of what the hon. Gentleman says, one might be trapped in a situation where no changes were ever made.

Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): Does my hon. Friend agree that, in areas such as North Yorkshire, where both the police authority and the fire authority have particular problems of sparsity because of the large geographical area and the limited manpower available to them, special consideration must be given to the management problems that those authorities face, to which my hon. Friend referred earlier?

Mr. Michael: The impact on individual forces is set out and considered in the formula that applies to police forces and the fire service. Sparsity is identified as a major complication by police forces and fire services covering rural areas. That is why I have commissioned research into the impact of sparsity, to see whether that can be evaluated. We may have more to say when we see the outcome of that research.

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