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Westminster Hall

Thursday 27 July 2000

[Mr. Michael Lord in the Chair]

Crime Reduction Partnerships

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.--[Mr. Dowd.]

2.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien ): People in this country want to feel safe in their homes, safe on the street and safe in their workplace. Reducing crime and disorder is a key element in achieving that aim. That is why one of the first actions of the Government when they came to office in 1997 was to draft the Crime and Disorder Bill, which subsequently became the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. That legislation was a product of widespread consultation which we undertook in opposition and we implemented as soon as we were in government.

We talked to ordinary police officers on the beat who have experience of problems on the street. They told us what was needed in the crime and disorder legislation and we delivered the laws that they wanted. We talked to our constituents, who wanted young thugs dealt with, and the Act was part of the process of tackling the roots of the problems that afflict many of our constituents. When we came into office, there were serious problems in the way in which crime and disorder were being dealt with. Our criminal justice system was not working efficiently or effectively. It took too long to bring a juvenile offender before the courts, have him properly charged, dealt with and punished. Many young offenders, in particular, did not understand the link between the crime that they had committed and the punishment that was pronounced on them. All too often, they were getting away with crimes. We were determined to make clear the link between the offence and the punishment, so that young offenders learnt their lesson early and we could nip in the bud their offending behaviour and stop them committing further offences.

We also wanted to ensure that local communities were involved in tackling crime. We did not want people to believe that such matters should just be passed to police officers in the hope that they could deal with them. We wanted communities to be involved and local authorities to accept their responsibility. Fighting crime is a community objective. The police have the lead role, but local authorities and communities also have a vital part to play. That is why the Crime and Disorder Act was so important. It showed that the Government were listening to the people of this country and were determined that law and order was at the top of their agenda.

The purpose of the Act was to create safer communities by ensuring that the police, local authorities, the voluntary sector and community groups worked together to tackle crime. They would audit the problems in their areas, put in place a strategy to address the problems of crime and ensure that that strategy was

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implemented properly. The Act recognised that local authorities had a key role to play in planning law, for example, which could do much to help the drive towards safer communities. It also acknowledged that no one organisation, such as the police or local councils, could beat crime alone. It set out a framework for the radical empowerment of local communities to be involved constructively in the fight against crime and disorder.

The 1998 Act established 376 crime and disorder reduction partnerships throughout England and Wales. The partnerships oblige police and local authorities to work together with other local organisations. Their aim is to formulate and implement a local strategy to reduce crime and disorder in local areas, examine the priorities and ensure that what they are doing locally is part of a national strategy of tackling crime and disorder. The first strategy came into force last April and covers the period until March 2002.

The crime audit is a process of examining the evidence and listening to local people about what is happening in their areas. Local people therefore have an input into the development of the crime and disorder strategy, which tackles problems in their areas. The partnerships are an important element in our commitment to tackle crime and its causes. Our crime reduction strategy, published in November, explained how we intended to achieve that.

We must remember how matters were when we came into office. There were serious deficiencies in our criminal justice system and policing, and a lack of effective laws in place to deal with some disorder problems. We wanted to ensure that we did not repeat the mistakes of the previous Government. Under the Tories, crime doubled and the number of people convicted in the courts fell by a third. During 1998, convictions rose by 6 per cent., which was the biggest increase in 20 years. That means that the police are nicking people, the Crown Prosecution Service is convicting them and the courts are dealing with them. We are starting to turn around the legacy that we inherited.

The crimes that affect people most--having their homes and cars broken into--are coming down in number. Recorded crime has fallen by 6 per cent. since the election, with the numbers of domestic burglaries falling by 24 per cent. and vehicle crimes by 17 per cent. Overall numbers of crimes are still falling in 40 per cent. of the country's police forces. Remember again that crime doubled under the Tories, and the number of people convicted fell by a third. We are starting to turn that trend around. We have embarked on the most comprehensive attack on crime for a generation, spending £400 million on a crime reduction programme that includes the biggest ever expansion of closed circuit television in town centres. The massive CCTV expansion has benefited the fight against crime in many constituencies.

A crime-fighting fund has been established to boost police recruitment, expand the DNA database and improve police communications. Our radical reform of the criminal justice system includes new measures to deal with young offenders, halving the time from their arrest to punishment so that they learn their lessons and are diverted away from crime. Tougher punishment for serious and persistent criminals has been provided for in

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legislation and is being implemented. Such matters take time, but the process has begun. The laws are in place and change is beginning.

When we introduced our spending plans for crime and disorder, the Conservatives condemned them as "reckless". They have opposed many of our changes, including measures to deal with anti-social behaviour, drug-addicted offenders and youth crime. Under budgets set by Conservative Home Secretaries under the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), police numbers fell by 1,500 between March 1993 and March 1998, despite the then Government's repeated promises to increase them. Today, the Opposition suggest that they are in favour of increased police numbers, but they delivered reduced police numbers. That is why we have decided to increase the funding available to recruit further police officers.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien : In a minute.

We have announced additional funding of £91 million to raise police numbers and improve effectiveness, including £15 million to enhance policing in rural areas such as Shropshire. I am sure that the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) wants to congratulate the Government on putting resources into fighting crime and increasing police numbers, which the Conservative Government failed to do. When he and the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) speak, perhaps they will make a commitment to their constituents that the £900 million of extra funding announced by the Government in the past couple of weeks will be met by any future Conservative Government over the next three years. If they cannot do so, they will let their constituents down.

Mr. Paterson : According to the House of Commons Library, the number of police officers in the West Mercia police authority, which covers my constituency, rose by 405, or 17 per cent., during the years of the previous Conservative Government, but the number decreased by 101 between April 1997 and April 2000 while the Minister and the Home Secretary have been in power.

Mr. O'Brien : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could explain to his constituents why he came into Parliament to support a Government who set the budgets that caused the reduction in the number of police officers that he complains about. It is not acceptable for Conservative Members to say that they are in favour of increased police numbers when their budgets were the cause of the cuts. I hope that he will explain to his constituents the reality of what Conservatives have done and failed to do, and the way in which they now seek to make what are no more than cheap political opportunist points of the sort that Madam Speaker warned against yesterday. We need a serious debate on tackling crime--that is what the people of this country want and it is what the Government seek. It is why we have put in place the 376 crime and disorder reduction partnerships across England and Wales that are now making a real

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impact on the problems that we inherited. The new partnerships oblige police and local authorities to work together with other local organisations in formulating local strategies. We want the partnerships to be an important element in our commitment to tackling crime and its causes. Our crime reduction strategy, published last November, shows how we intend to do that.

We have asked all the partnerships to provide a report on the first year of their work and those reports are being analysed by the Home Office. I anticipate that some of those results will be patchy. I also suspect that the crime figures will be patchy because in 40 per cent. of constabularies crime is going down, while in other constabularies it is going up. It is interesting to note from recent figures that the Metropolitan police area accounts for 61 per cent. of the overall increase in crime and the West Midlands area for 26 per cent. There have been changes in the way in which the West Midlands collects its statistics, but the chief constable has accepted that there is a need to address issues. That chief constable, Ted Crew, is a good, effective senior police officer who is establishing the changes necessary to enable the West Midlands police, which has a long history of problems, to tackle crime effectively. I believe that he can turn that police force into one of the best in the country in terms of tackling crime. I hope that that happens quickly because my own constituency borders on the west midlands. I know that Ted Crew is determined to work closely with the Warwickshire constabulary to ensure that that is delivered.

Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling): My hon. Friend the Minister makes an important point about crime statistics. Will he confirm that the Government would welcome a rise in the number of recorded domestic violence crimes? That would reflect the Government's determination to get people to report such crime.

Mr. O'Brien : My hon. Friend is right and puts his finger on an important issue. Certain crimes, including domestic violence and racial crimes, are under-reported. People are encouraged to report crimes that they were previously reluctant to report and we have concentrated on establishing strategies that will address the nature of racist crime and domestic violence. That will have an impact on the statistics. However, I do not claim that all the problems on crime are a result of the increased reporting or statistical changes, and we are determined to address the issues. In debating such issues, we must bear in mind the nature of the statistical evidence involved and realise that the statistics are not merely headline figures but are often quite complex and require a detailed understanding of the reasons why the statistics have changed.

One of our key tasks is to ensure reductions in crime in local areas. That will involve raising performance in some of the areas that have problems and working with the police and local authorities to set challenging but realistic targets for reducing crime. Under best value, police authorities have five-year targets to reduce crime by 30 per cent., to reduce domestic burglary by a quarter and, in our principal towns, to reduce robbery by 14 per cent. Local councils must also report on and set targets for those three indicators. We expect to have the target-setting process in place by April 2001 in order to set all local crime and disorder reduction partnership targets.

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The target-setting process is not about imposing targets on police and local authorities. It is about identifying national priorities to reduce crime and arranging for the setting and achieving of those targets in a locally determined way. The Government remain committed to the principles of the 1998 Act and the development of local crime and disorder strategies built around local priorities. The process is about striking the right balance between national crime reduction and dealing with local anxieties in a way that involves local people.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): We have a very successful crime reduction partnership in Stroud. Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the problems of scrutiny is the different ways in which the police, for example, are scrutinised by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, whereas local authorities are evaluated by district audit? There must be some pulling together so that we achieve communality and know that that constitutes a correct measure of what is happening.

Mr. O'Brien : My hon. Friend is right. We need to ensure general consistency between the ways in which strategies are evaluated for local councils and constabularies, and greater co-operation and link-up between the various ways in which they are inspected.

Consistency between local and national priorities is also important, and I am pleased to report that that consistency is now developing, having already emerged from the development of local crime and disorder strategies. We do not expect every area's priorities to be exactly the same. Such matters are locally determined. As we found from our visits to partnerships last summer and from partnership audit and strategy documents, many of the priorities that emerged from local consultation are consistent with those that we identified as national priorities. In some ways, it would be surprising if they were not.

As the Government's crime reduction strategy suggests, we need to take on the crimes about which the public are most worried. The strategy focuses on burglary and theft from and of cars. Progress in reducing such offences would constitute a significant step towards making this country a safer place for all of us.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): How will national targets for reducing specific crimes be translated into local targets for individual partnership areas? Some problems will have to be overcome, given that a chief constable might say that he can best achieve his force target by, for example, concentrating on reducing burglary in a particular urban area. How will national priorities be translated into police force and individual partnership targets? That difficult administrative task must be worked out.

Mr. O'Brien : I agree that an element of consistency is important. I do not expect every local strategy to identify those two particular performance indicators--burglary and car crime--as their top priorities. Levels of those categories of crime will vary among areas. However, as those crimes account for a substantial element of recorded crime, they feature highly in the priorities of most of the local strategies with which the

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local crime and disorder partnerships have provided us. Eighty-four per cent. have set burglary as a priority, and 80 per cent. have set car crime as a priority. Those figures chime in well with our national targets. It is, therefore, right to say that there is a need for a link and for consistency between the two.

By allowing a fair amount of local input, that consistency is emerging. National targets and priorities were set as a result of consultation at local level and have come up to national level, which will be reflected in the way in which the local strategies develop. Thus, partnerships have developed their own clear strategies for addressing the issues and have set clear and challenging targets at local level, which feed into our national strategy. There is no contradiction between addressing locally perceived needs and addressing national priorities. It is not a question of addressing one or the other. As the hon. Gentleman would agree, we need to tackle both.

Local crime and disorder reduction partnerships have asked for a greater national focus to their work. Therefore, we have set up the national crime reduction task force to respond to their requests. That provides an advisory body to the local partnerships, made up of practitioners and key Government policy makers. It is chaired by the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), who deals with policing matters. Its membership includes people with practical experience of reducing crime at local level. It will focus on the role and work of the partnerships, acting as a source of support and guidance to them and helping them to deliver sustained reductions in crime on the ground.

It is important to recognise that we are only part of the way through creating the partnerships and putting the strategies into place. That will take time, but it can be done. Although the task force itself has no executive authority, it will influence the making and implementation of local crime reduction policies--most importantly, in providing advice about the work to develop agreed packages of good practice guidance and tool kits for strategies for tackling crime locally. The task force will be able to steer the key areas that will form part of the good practice programme. Actual preparation of the good practice kits is under way, and we expect delivery of the first batch in August.

We are anxious to strengthen our regional crime reduction capability. We have appointed regional crime directors in each of the nine Government regional offices in England; the tenth will be based in the Welsh Assembly. Their role will be to help reduce crime by improving the effectiveness of local crime and disorder reduction partnerships. They will also be responsible for the management of crime reduction programme expenditure in their region. The directors will be supported by enhanced regional crime reduction teams, which will be expected to monitor the performance of each of the partnerships within the region and to intervene, where necessary, to secure improvements.

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West): Will the Minister tell us the statutory basis of the powers that will reside with the regional crime directors? If it is intended that

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they will perform a monitoring or auditing role, does the agree that there is a danger that a structure will be created that is too bureaucratic?

Mr. O'Brien : I have no wish to create too bureaucratic a structure. I want to ensure that the best advice possible is available on a regional basis from people who know the region. For example, we will have advisers on Clwyd--the hon. Gentleman's constituency--who know the problems in that area and can adopt not a national perspective but a regional and local one. Those advisers will have background knowledge of the sort of strategies that are being adopted across the country, so they will be able to bring the regional directives together to ensure that best practice is known about; Otherwise, how will people in Clwyd know about a crime and disorder reduction partnership in Tyneside that has a good set of ideas and a good strategy which could be replicated? We want to ensure that a framework is in place to provide the advice that we feel is necessary.

We will be able to intervene to provide advice but not, at first, direction. We will advise people about how best to develop their own local strategy and what the most effective tools are. That is how we anticipate regional directors will operate. If there were a need for direct intervention--I anticipate that there will not be a great need for it--mechanisms are already provided through the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Home Office and through discussions between Ministers, local authorities and chief police officers. I am not concerned that we are setting up a bureaucratic structure, as the framework is primarily advisory. However, I am concerned to ensure that those who develop local strategies have the best advice available, as well as knowledge and understanding of best practice across the country.

We also intend to work at supporting the police and partnerships, and are conducting an extensive programme of research, training and seminars. We are spending £1 million in 1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2000-02 on providing a programme of seminars and training targeted at the main areas of partnership work and crime reduction. That also includes, on request, support and guidance on an individual partnership level. Clwyd can, therefore, ask for regional or national advice on what is the best approach.

As well as focusing on the structure and support programme, we have invested heavily in crime reduction, and have fed in to local strategies. We have launched a £400 million evidence-based crime reduction programme, which includes a number of initiatives, such as an investment of £153 million in CCTV, for which £50 million has already been committed to 342 schemes. More than £50 million has been committed to projects to reduce burglary in high-crime areas, and up to £12 million has been committed to improving home security for low-income pensioners. We have committed £31 million to the long-term "On Track" programme, which is aimed at children between the ages of four and 12 who are at risk of becoming involved in crime. Another £30 million has been earmarked for problem-orientated or intelligence-led policing projects. Funding of more than £9 million has so far been granted to

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19 such projects, and another £17 million has provisionally been allocated to 34 additional projects, pending the submission of detailed plans.

Funding of £13 million has been allocated for the setting up of 70 youth inclusion schemes to prevent youth offending and the associated risk factors. The Government have provided an additional £20 million to force areas with a robbery reduction target, in order to focus on robbery and street crime.

As I indicated, an extra £15 million has been made available to deal with crime in rural areas. That recognises the problem in relation to sparsity factors, which the previous Govt repeatedly failed to address. We have accepted the need to address that problem. People in rural areas who are concerned about the underfunding of their local police forces should remember that the previous Government denied that there was a sparsity factor, while this Government recognise that it is a problem that needs to be addressed.

In addition, £20 million was provided for arrest referral schemes to cut drug crime, and £50 million to support the introduction of modern digital communications in the police service. Is the hon. Member for Aylesbury, who will speak for the Conservative party, prepared to commit to the new airwave digital communications system, which we want to ensure that the police have at their disposal? It is an absolutely vital instrument to assist the police in targeting crime. Can he guarantee that such funding would not be cut, were the Conservatives ever to get into office? Will he guarantee that the Conservative party will deliver the additional £900 million expenditure over three years? If he cannot do so, everything else that he says is hot air.

All of those investments are aimed at reducing crime and the causes of crime, in addition to the crime fighting fund, which will enable the police force to recruit an additional 9,000 officers over and above recruiting plans for the next three years. We are determined to ensure that that funding is delivered. We have also provided the extra funding announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on 18 July, as part of the spending review. A wide programme of activities is under way on all key fronts. It is an ambitious and comprehensive programme, which is aimed at delivering sustained reductions in crime.

We are committed to the partnership process. Local crime and disorder reduction partnerships are the key to our strategy to reduce crime. The recorded crime figures published on 18 July show that a targeted approach to crime can achieve real results. We have shown that we can do something about crime and we can do it in the areas that people feel strongest about, such as burglary and car crime. We have also shown that, from the time we came into office until now, crime has been 6 per cent. lower than it was under the Conservatives.

We readily acknowledge increases in other areas of crime. We must redouble our efforts to ensure that we make inroads into those areas as well as achieving sustainable reductions across the board. Our strategy is sound. It is based on local initiatives, prevention, protection, punishment and ensuring that we get effective performance. We have shown that we can achieve success. Our efforts will continue to focus on working together with and supporting our local crime and disorder reduction partnerships to maintain our commitment to making Britain a safer place to live.

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3 pm

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): I do not begrudge the Minister his moments of political partisanship, although it was a pity that, when he talked about turning around the legacy that he inherited from the Conservatives, he did not immediately point out that the single biggest turnaround has been in the trend in recorded crime. The Government inherited a situation in which recorded crime was falling in the most sustained fashion since the second world war. During their period of stewardship they have presided over the halting and then the reversing of that fall. The Minister also skated somewhat lightly over the cut of 2,700 in police officers since the general election.

It is a pity that when the Government talk about the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 they pretend that nothing in the way of partnership to defeat crime had been happening before 1 May 1997. A great deal went on before they were elected. Indeed, the literature that they have published shows that the Thames Valley initiative on restorative justice started in 1994; and in Dyfed Powys the idea of volunteers aiding the police had been going since 1993. In counties such as Northamptonshire, tremendous efforts have been made to get the local and national Government agencies to work in partnership for more than a decade. Wandsworth borough council has had crime prevention on the agenda of all its committees for many years. Brentwood district council appointed a crime prevention officer to its staff in the early 1990s. There have been Home Office funded crime prevention projects in areas such as Rochdale. Neighbourhood watch, Crimestoppers and Crime Concern have been encouraged in South Wales.

We could have a somewhat historically based debate about the relative merits of the different initiatives taken under our respective Governments, but I want to take seriously the topic of crime reduction and crime reduction partnerships. When the Crime and Disorder Act was going through the House, the Government acknowledged that a lot of work had already been done in various parts of the country. There was a case for bringing all that work together and putting it on a statutory basis, as the Government have now done. The test of the effectiveness of this new statute-based partnership arrangement is how well it works in practice.

Whatever our political party, we will see in our constituencies the advantages of the police, the local authorities, the probation service and the voluntary sector getting together to work out a co-ordinated response to reduce and defeat crime in their neighbourhoods. The question we must debate today is how effective the approach embodied in the 1998 Act has been. I was surprised--to put it mildly--that the Minister did not mention the "Calling Time on Crime" report, which was published this week and is the fruit of a detailed inspection and evaluation of the partnership work conducted following the enactment of the 1998 Act. That was a thematic inspection on crime and disorder by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary with the Audit Commission, the Local Government Association, the Office for Standards in Education and the Social Services Inspectorate. When debating Government initiatives and public expenditure, there is no better example than that report of the importance of focusing not merely on totals spent, but on how public

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money and the powers of Government are deployed to try to achieve the improvements in the lives of our citizens that we all want.

Mr. O'Brien : Although I did not quote directly from the "Calling Time on Crime" report, I quoted from its press release. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am aware of the report.

Mr. Lidington : I am grateful that the Minister read at least the press release, if not the report. I intend to quote from the report. Its premise is that the arrangements in the 1998 Act are good and provide the basis for effective action to reduce crime, and it acknowledges that there is much good practice, but it makes several trenchant criticisms of the way in which the system has worked. I hope that there will be some agreement in the Chamber about the flaws that the inspection identified and the need for the Home Office to take a lead on action to tackle those flaws.

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the report's key messages, which the Government accept, is that much of the action undertaken was not based on a real analysis and real prioritisation of crime? That is crucial in ensuring that resources are used in the best way.

Mr. Lidington : I agree absolutely about the necessity of basing action--whether taken by the police service, the local authority or all the agencies in the partnership--on an informed assessment of the local situation.

The difficulties that the inspection identified centred on the risk that meetings, audits and strategies would become a substitute for effective action. I shall paraphrase what one local authority chief executive told me this week. I asked him about progress in his area, and he said that doing the audit was fine--it was time-consuming, but straightforward--and that when people co-ordinated their diaries, it was relatively easy to sit down and hammer out a strategy. However, his local authority had not yet made effective progress on the real challenge of translating the strategy's aspirations into practical action to reduce crime and the fear of crime.

One of the difficulties is that the agencies are subject to a surfeit of plans. To show that I am being neutral, I shall refer to page 24 of the report, which contains a list supplied by Blyth Valley borough council--certainly not a Conservative authority--of the strategies and plans to which it is required to provide a local authority response. On law and order, it refers to the youth justice plan, crime and disorder reduction strategy, policing plan, drug strategy and community legal service plan. I shall not read into the record the entire list provided by that council, but it lists a number of plans under headings as diverse as education, regeneration, economy, housing, transportation, health and care, culture, environment and planning.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody): Order. I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's assurance that he will not read the entire list, but I advise him that a record is being made and it would be courteous to read one or two headings slowly.

Mr. Lidington : I am always grateful for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker.

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The inspection also found that local education authorities and schools, which are supposed to be key partners in the crime reduction strategy, said that they were required to comply with 17 different statutory plans. To be effective, all those plans require commitment and time from senior officers of the agencies involved: they must not simply be delegated to the newest recruit on the front desk.

The police must contribute to an annual policing plan in accordance with the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994. The Home Office requires each force to provide an efficiency plan, and the Local Government Act 1999 requires a best value plan. The Government, as every superintendent to whom I speak reminds me, ask the police to measure their activities against 57--at the last count--different performance indicators.

All that is happening at the same time as the police service is preparing for the introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the enactment of the Race Relations (Amendment) Bill. Following new legislation, local councils are grappling with major changes to their structures and methods of working. The different bodies that make up the national health service are responding to a major organisational upheaval. In addition, major cuts have been made in police numbers.

Mr. Drew : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a problem with two-tier authorities? A locus in both the county and the district can lead to conflict. That needs to be resolved.

Mr. Lidington : I agree that that problem needs to be resolved. The hon. Gentleman will know that one of the inspection's conclusions is that it is more difficult to reach agreement in two-tier areas than in unitary areas, but that agreement can be reached provided that there is a management culture in the agencies and a commitment by senior executives. I agree that it is important in two-tier areas that counties and districts work closely together in pursuit of the common objective.

My key point is the message that clearly comes out of the inspection report: it is difficult for the partner agencies to decide how to prioritise the various plans with which they are required to comply and which take up much of senior executives' time and energy. A manager in a health authority told the inspection that

A comparable criticism is made of the funding and bidding process. As the Minister said in his introductory remarks, much of the moneys that the Home Office put into crime reduction strategies is available in the form of

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challenge funding for which partnerships or their constituent agencies must present bids. The irony is that the Government complained to the inspectors that many of the bids were of poor quality, and local authorities and police forces told the inspectors that they were concerned about the complexity and inconsistency of the bidding process, which wasted so much time and effort.

On page 19 of the report, a director of housing in one local authority is quoted as saying:

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk): I sympathise with much of what the hon. Gentleman says. I was able last week to reassure my partnership that funding was available to bid for: the figures are quite easy. The hon. Gentleman's party has promised our constituents some £24 million in cuts. Can he tell us how much funding for tackling crime and disorder will be cut from the amounts announced last week?

Mr. Lidington : If the hon. Gentleman wants a pledge to take back to his constituents, I can tell him that, when the Conservative Government are elected in 2001 or 2002, they will ensure that the resources that the country can afford to pay in tax are spent much more effectively than under the current, or any future, Labour Administration. There will be up to two further Budgets between now and the possible date of the general election, so my right hon. Friends in the shadow Cabinet will have ample time to take account of the state of the economy and understand exactly where our spending and tax priorities should lie. We shall certainly not make promises that look far into the future without regard to what might happen in the economy. It may be easy for the Government to produce a day's headlines, but it is much more difficult to deliver their claims in practice.

Mr. O'Brien : The hon. Gentleman says that we will not be able to deliver our expenditure commitments in practice. None of these resources could possibly be delivered by a Conservative Government. I can assure him that the Labour Government will deliver, but the hon. Gentleman seems to doubt whether a Conservative Government ever could.

Mr. Lidington : I am saying, as the Minister well knows, that the country must pay what it can afford. The Government have been reluctant to release the detailed figures underlying the headlines, which the Chancellor published last week. I have tabled questions to Home Office Ministers to dig out from them how they envisage the money being spent. So far I have been

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stonewalled, but I live in hope that I will strike a golden seam and unexpectedly find information from Ministers.

I was speaking about the systems for bidding and financial planning. The point about priorities not being simply about how much money is available but about how effectively it will be spent is made crisply on page 96 of the Home Office report. Inspectors say that few of the partnerships have clear financial plans. The report states:

Another area of concern is the sharing of data between the different agencies involved in partnerships. The inspectors found what they described as too much caution and concern among senior managers, which was primarily due to their lack of confidence that the powers in crime and disorder legislation would be sufficient defence in a court action against personal liability under the Data Protection Act 1998. Given that finding, there is a clear need for the Government to publish a circular that will reassure people that they can exchange data.

Mr. McCabe : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, although that has been a genuine concern, a solution has come from the police and other agencies establishing proper protocols for sharing information? A current excellent example in the west midlands is the policy for tackling the problem of abandoned vehicles, which is based on the information sharing that has resulted from the protocol established 12 months ago.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. Hon. Gentlemen who want to catch my eye might like to bear in mind the fact that I like short, sharp interruptions.

Mr. Lidington : I am glad that that protocol was negotiated in the west midlands. However, what emerged as a result of the difficulty in persuading police and local authorities to use anti-social behaviour orders more widely was that councils, the police and other agencies found it complicated and difficult to negotiate protocols, including those on the exchange of information, which they need to have in place before seeking an anti-social behaviour order from the courts. From my conversations with police officers and local authority chief officers, I know that there have been one or two concerns about data sharing. There has been a great improvement in the mutual trust between local authorities and the police. Senior police officers and chief executives of local authorities have told me that what we call crime reaction partnerships sometimes involve only the local authority and the police, with others playing a somewhat peripheral role.

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That experience probably varies greatly from one part of the country to another, so one should not generalise on the basis of individual circumstances. I have been told that the health service is often reluctant to share information about domestic violence or mental health that is relevant to the crime reduction work for which the partnerships are responsible. As the medical profession and the national health service rightly place great importance on medical confidentiality, I can understand that reluctance; nevertheless, if the partnerships are to work effectively, further work needs to be done to overcome those difficulties.

I had the same complaint in respect of education--

3.25 pm

Sitting suspended.

3.40 pm

On resuming--

Mr. Lidington : I was referring to difficulties about the exchange of information between different agencies.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): I was about to intervene when we suspended for a Division. I chair a community safety partnership and, although there have been problems with the protocol, they have been largely overcome. The health authority is now a signatory to the protocol and information is flowing, so some of the difficulties to which the report refers have been overcome.

Mr. Lidington : That is encouraging news. I hope that, through the inspectorates or the Government, the successes that have been won in places such as Barnsley will spread to the rest of the country. It is important in the work on community action against crime to learn from best practice so that what works in one locality can be disseminated to another.

In addition to the problem with the health service, I have received reports that some education authorities and schools have been reluctant to divulge information about exclusions. That information would be helpful in devising effective crime prevention strategies, so the problem must be addressed.

The theme through the report is that the success of the new partnerships is being held back by tension between the priorities set by local people and those of central Government as circulated to various local agencies. The inspectors used firm language in the report, which states:

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My final point concerns the role of central Government in partnerships. I have heard complaints from the police and from local councils that part of the difficulty in persuading the various agencies to play their full role in partnership work derives from the reluctance of particular Departments to play their part as the Home Office would like. One local authority chief executive said to me that he had, as yet, seen no guidance from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions about the impact that crime reduction priorities should have on the determination of planning decisions. That is especially important in the light of what the HMIC report says about section 17 of the 1998 Act, and it shows that agencies could be under threat of litigation if they fail to build crime reduction into their decision making and policies.

Similar complaints have been made to me about the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Employment. It is not only councils in Buckinghamshire that have had problems getting the health service and the education service fully engaged in crime reduction work. The retort from health managers is often, "We know that what you are doing is worth while, but it does not figure among the key priorities set for us by our parent Departments in Whitehall." They go on to say that, until the Departments adjust their priorities and demands to reflect the priority that should be given to crime prevention, they will not be able to engage fully with crime reduction work as the Government wish.

That is an issue for the Government, and I note that the inspectors suggest that they should establish a ministerial working group on crime reduction to give a focus to the work of co-ordination at government level. The inspectors cite the ministerial working party on drugs as an example that could be copied. There used to be--I am going back 10 years--a ministerial group on crime prevention which, in my salad days as a special adviser, I attended from time to time. Although I do not believe that moving the furniture around in Whitehall will solve all the country's problems, there is a case, which is well made out in the report, for partnership work to be given a political focus. That might enable the Home Office team to persuade some of their colleagues

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in other Departments to give priority to crime prevention and crime reduction, which is what Home Office Ministers and our constituents undoubtedly want.

The crime reduction partnerships and the community work embodied in the 1998 Act represent a valuable part of our national campaign to check and reduce crime. However, we must guard against the risk of meetings, paperwork, strategies and audits being interpreted as an end in themselves, when they should be only the starting point for effective grass-roots action to curb crime in our constituencies. Action on the flaws in the system identified by the inspectors in their recent report is the first step that Ministers must take to turn their hopes into reality.

3.48 pm

Jackie Ballard (Taunton): In preparing for this debate, I have to confess that I did not read "Calling Time on Crime". However, I asked members of my local partnership and a number of national voluntary organisations with which I am in contact how they envisaged the strategy would work on the ground. As some hon. Members know, I am doing a secondment through the National Council for Voluntary Organisations scheme for parliamentarians with Crime Concern--which has played a key role in many crime and disorder reduction partnerships--and I have spoken to people there about their perspective. However, I have not had time to ask the most important group of people how the strategy is working--that is, of course, the public.

As the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) said, we should not forget that the real test of any strategy or partnership is how it works for the public. Do they feel safer? Are they safer? Is their neighbourhood quieter? Is there more purposeful activity for young people and others in the community? This morning, I had an interesting discussion at Crime Concern about the difference between outputs and outcomes. Outputs can be measured statistically. They give comfort and feedback to the agencies involved, and help to make them accountable to the Government in terms of funding. Outcomes give residents comfort. They are often as much about perception as about reality, and concern matters that cannot so easily be measured.

There have been several positive developments in my area. Unlike many of the crime figures that were discussed earlier, crime levels in Avon and Somerset are down for the seventh year in succession. That is viewed locally as not only a police success, but a crime and disorder reduction partnership success. It is important that successes are recognised as being due to the partnerships, as much as perceived failures are attributed to them.

I shall describe three activities in my constituency that have developed in recent years. The Wellington drug awareness group is a local project that shows the real value of community involvement. It was initiated by a local family, whose son tragically died in a drug-related incident. His father was a member of the local town council, and was able to get the council involved in the initiative. Turning Point, a local voluntary agency, is also involved. The aim of the initiative is to help support

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not only drug users, but their families, who often feel unsupported and isolated, and find it difficult to talk to anyone about what it is like living with someone who has a drug problem.

My second example is Taunton retailers against crime. Hon. Members have not mentioned the role of the business sector in crime and disorder reduction partnerships. Businesses have a role to play and not only in providing funding, which they all too often think is the only reason that people want them on board. Under the scheme, retailers in the town have a system of radio contact to inform each other when there is someone suspicious in one of their shops. I have seen it in action when I have been out shopping, and it is very effective.

The third scheme, which is called safe and secure for the elderly, is led by the local authority. As its name suggests, it is intended to assist the elderly in feeling safer and more secure in their own homes through advice and practical means. Those schemes are all successes of the partnership, but in each of them the lead is taken by the appropriate authority or organisation. That is how it should be.

Many partners in crime and disorder reduction partnerships are involved in other local partnerships. Sometimes they feel as though they are suffering from partnership overload--the same representatives of one organisation constantly meet the same representatives of other organisations wearing different hats. I recently attended a primary health care partnership meeting during which someone cynically said that their definition of partnership was sworn enemies coming together for the common purpose of seeking funding. Sadly, in some cases that may be true.

Mr. Lidington : The Labour party.

Jackie Ballard : I am not going to make party political points, because it is not necessary.

People made a number of positive points about the initiative when I questioned them about it. There has been a general welcome for crime and disorder reduction partnerships. Key partners have been brought together, sometimes for the first time, to address crime and disorder problems. Usually--not always--it has led to better working relationships and better multi-agency working. It is welcome that the role of local authorities has been recognised. Many local authorities have done a great deal in relation to community safety initiatives, although it is not a statutory requirement. We have heard about examples of that today and, no doubt, we will hear more.

No one--certainly no one in the agencies involved--thinks that crime is the concern only of the police and the criminal justice system. Most people recognise that the causes of crime are many and, therefore, the agencies involved include health, education and housing authorities, social services, planners and estate design teams. Of those, the estate design teams are the slowest to catch up. I understand that police architectural consultants are not used as well as they might be when new housing estates are being designed. In addition, we should remember the key role played by voluntary organisations.

The process of doing the audit and putting together the strategy has engendered a more rigorous approach, based on the analysis of problems, identification of

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priorities and formulation of targets, leading to the adoption of evidence-based solutions. However, as we have heard, it has exposed a serious lack of adequate systems for data collection on the part of many agencies. In some instances, there is still a reluctance to share data, although, as we have heard, some of those problems have been sorted out. I was responsible for setting up a county-wide domestic violence forum, and the first problem we encountered was that different agencies had different types of data. Some agencies were not at all clear about the data that they held and were reluctant to share them.

The Minister will be pleased to hear me say, as an Opposition Member, that the general view among the public is that more progress has been made in the 18 months since the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 came into force than was made in the previous 18 years. That is positive, but it is not all plain sailing. Partnership work can be difficult to convert into action, and there can be culture clashes in values and ways of working between agencies. The most obvious example relates to the police and local authorities. One group is directly democratically elected and the other has no obvious direct democracy. One group has member involvement and a slower timetable for decision making--although that is changing--while the other is able to make decisions more quickly. I shall not go through the whole list of differences between the police and local authorities. It is not always easy to merge different cultures.

Statutory agencies have not always given proper value to the role of the voluntary sector. Often, there are jealousies involved. Partners have given varying levels of commitment and resources, and there have been disputes over ownership and boundaries. Time and again, there has been conflict between tried and tested solutions and localised solutions and between reconciling the needs and experiences of different areas with national priorities and targets, which can cut across the concept of generating local solutions to problems. Such matters are not easy to resolve. The Minister said that it was important to strike a balance, and I can understand the Government's desire to set national targets and priorities. However, it is not always easy to match them with local priorities.

Some people regard the Home Office guidance as over-prescriptive; others want more guidance. We might have expected that. We must establish the areas in which guidance would be welcomed and those in which it would be intrusive. For example, health authorities have complained about a lack of guidance on signing local protocols on data exchange. The hon. Member for Aylesbury mentioned that problem in relation to data on domestic violence. Some partnerships are unwilling to target geographical areas, for fear of labelling them, and prefer a thematic approach. In other areas, there are neighbourhoods that, clearly, have a concentration of problems, and it makes more sense to work at neighbourhood level.

We have heard about difficulties in areas with a two or three-tier local government. The hon. Member for Aylesbury drew attention to the time-consuming nature of preparing proposals for funding, which is not always proportionate to the funding that is available. Often, the time scale for bids is not seen as being long enough.There are resource implications for partners in

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partnership working and there is a general view that the Government have not adequately acknowledged the resource implications in working in partnership. It is not something that can just be bolted on to the work that local authorities already carry out.

The Government have found that corporate working and dealing with cross-cutting issues is not easy. We must recognise that the same is true for local authorities and others who are often still fighting the culture of departmentalism. There are also competing agendas. I shall not repeat what he said, but the hon. Member for Aylesbury drew attention to the fact that, at times, key partners are not able to devote sufficient time and resources to crime reduction. For example, the performance indicators and targets of health authorities relate to cardiac arrests, cancer and waiting lists, so crime reduction targets are not a key performance indicator for them. The performance indicators for schools are standard assessment tests, GCSEs and truancy, so crime reduction targets are not a key performance indicator for them.

If funding or success in league tables and tangible rewards are not linked to crime reduction, it is more difficult for such agencies to make it a priority for resource allocation. One of the action points in "Calling Time on Crime" is that ministerial portfolios should contain the requirement to consider the prevention of crime and disorder. Can the Minister say whether that is likely to happen? If that can happen at national Government level, it might be easier for that example to be followed at local level.

What is needed? Partners should be willing to adapt off-the-peg solutions that work elsewhere to reduce common problems, such as residential burglary. To repeat the press release at the launch of a new website on crime this week: it will certainly help in the exchange of best practice. Partners need to be able to deliver quick wins--to gain public support and increase awareness. I should be surprised if members of the public had a high awareness of the existence of crime and disorder partnerships.

Mr. Mike O'Brien : If the hon. Lady's constituents want to find out about the website, its address is www.crimereduction.gov.uk, and it is open.

Jackie Ballard : I thank the Minister for that helpful intervention. We shall do our best to publicise the website. I am glad that it is on line; I shall check it out myself.

The neighbourhood approach is often better than a thematic approach because it enables joined-up action at community level and because of its linkage to the national neighbourhood renewal strategies. However, a neighbourhood focus can also mask problems in rural areas, for example, where there is not the same concentration of issues. Thus, a thematic approach may be more appropriate in those areas. We must be pragmatic when dealing with the issue.

Hot spotting of geographical areas can have a negative impact, but there is a need to hot-spot issues in neighbourhoods, such as domestic violence. Drug use can also happen anywhere, although its impact may be

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different from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. I am sure that the Minister is aware, however, of the drug use problem in the most rural parts of my constituency. Its impact on those living on Exmoor will not be perceived to be nearly as serious as its impact would in an urban or inner-city area, but it certainly impacts on the lives of those who are misusing drugs.

Partners need to address the barriers to effective working, such as culture, competition and trust. Crime Concern has facilitated "partnership away days". That may sound like a trendy idea, but they can be helpful in bringing partners together, breaking down barriers and attaining a level of understanding. Partners have reported that the away days have made a difference in their relationships.

How can the Government improve the working of crime and disorder reduction partnerships? I shall not talk about money, as that would not necessarily help at the moment. There are uncertainties--I do not know whether they are real or an excuse--about the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998 in terms of data sharing. It would help if there were more guidance available to partners on that.

Mr. O'Brien : I did not understand. Did the hon. Lady say that there was a lack of guidance on data sharing in relation to the Human Rights Act 1998 or on both data sharing and the 1998 Act?

Jackie Ballard : I meant that some partners use the Data Protection Act 1998 or the Human Rights Act 1998 as an excuse for not sharing data. It would help if there were guidance on whether either Act limits the extent to which data can be shared and, if so, on how it is limited.

The pathfinder sites report notes that the coterminosity of as many boundaries as possible is desirable, and that unitary authorities are much easier to manage. I do not argue for another local government review. I was a member of a local authority that went through one a couple of years ago and it was a fairly painful process. We ended up staying as we were, so we went through it for nothing. The difficulties in multi-tier areas need to be acknowledged. Like me, the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) represents a three-tier area. The subject is worth mentioning, as in rural areas it is important that parish and town councils are involved as well as district and county councils. I talked about an initiative in my constituency that was led or supported by a town council.

The Government need to acknowledge that local concerns will not be the same everywhere, as the Minister said. Local views about priorities in tackling crime and disorder will not always be the same as national perspectives. The 43-point action plan in the report by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary mirrors many points made by members of my local partnership, which may not be surprising. The report confirms that substantial progress is being made on ensuring a high level of commitment, but there is a still a long way to go to ensure that local strategies deliver tangible and sustainable results for local communities.

The Minister spoke of the need to involve local people. The experience of local people on the ground may often be missing when we have such debates. At

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Crime Concern's head office this morning, we had a fascinating presentation about a certain project in the midlands. The point was made that we should not be over-reliant on official statistics, especially when it comes to recorded crime. We all know that recorded crime statistics are the tip of the iceberg of actual crime. An example was given of an estate on which the man who ran the fish and chip shop reported that he used to sell many suppers to older residents, but now sells none to them. That tells us that older people no longer feel safe going out on the streets of the estate in the evening.

Such a fact may not be shown in official crime statistics, as it is about perception and fear of crime rather than actuality, although it may lag after actual crime. On the same estate, the owner of a shop reported selling out of tin foil on one weekend, which suggested an influx of a certain hard drug. Such intelligence might not be available to police officers or any other members of the crime and disorder reduction partnership, but would be available to someone living and working in the middle of a community.

The final relevant example from the presentation was of a young man who came into the project office. He knocked on the window and said, "I am your worst nightmare, and I want to talk to you. I am a heroin user and, in order to feed my habit, I commit burglaries. I understand that you have a lot of money to spend, to clear up crime and improve the neighbourhood. However, you need to talk to me about how I can get out of this vicious circle. You need to involve me in your plans for the community."That is a challenge for a partnership. How can the police sit down around the same table as drug users? How can the health authority respond quickly to that young man's need for assessment and treatment? It is also a challenge for the local community. How can it talk--face to face and in a positive way--with someone who is causing it so much trouble?

I do not believe that partnerships will deliver real outcomes on the ground if they do not involve people who are the cause of problems as well as those on the receiving end of those problems. The partnerships are generally working well, judging by the short period during which they have been running. However, there are key issues that need addressing if well-meaning strategies are to be turned into sustainable action and to produce real improvements on the ground.

Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I want everyone to have the opportunity to speak, and a tiny bit of discipline would help us to achieve that.

4.11 pm

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): I adhere to your stricture, Madam Deputy Speaker, and will be speedy.

I should declare an interest. I chair a safety community partnership and a multi-agency panel for the anti-racist strategy in Barnsley. Many of my Fridays are taken up doing work around my constituency for those two bodies.

This is the first year for the crime prevention partnerships, as set up under the 1998 Act, although many communities have had partnerships for some

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time, as the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) said. There is a long history of partnerships in Barnsley. The crime prevention partnership came into being in 1995 as a result of initiatives that had been taking place since 1993. The partnership had to take on board a large number of projects that had been set up to run throughout the borough. The way in which it was run provided a good lesson in organisation. A co-ordinator was appointed and 28 projects, including projects for drugs, parents and young children, and young people, were given to topic groups. Those groups were given a chairman and set into a coherent framework that could follow through the work that was being done and identify where the resource was needed. When the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 came into being, we had to change the constitution because we had new partners. The health authority, the health action zone and the local LEA all joined the new community safety partnership.

I have watched and observed the various agencies working, and most people seem to be prepared to enter into a new culture. They have put their differences on one side and worked together. When I relate some of the statistics, we will see how the partnership has become bedded down in the community, which is resulting in achievements that reflect a falling crime rate.

Barnsley's partnership was up and running and achieving results before the introduction of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. We set up that organisation to engage with the community; previously, we had a community and voluntary forum, which was an integrated part of the original partnership. Since bringing in the new constitution we have given greater autonomy to that community forum, which engages with the community and then reports back to the policy board. That board is obviously concerned with policy but it has also been necessary to look at the operational level and how we change that. We have created a grouping of heads of agencies which are responsible for operations, who meet regularly. They implement policy from the policy board and follow it through down to street level, where we are beginning to see results.

The original objective of the community partnership was to create an effective and sustainable preventive approach while ensuring law enforcement. It is a matter, therefore, not merely of looking at the social side of the development of the partnership but also of keeping an eye on law enforcement strategy--not with great rigour but carefully--to ensure that it is robust. The partnership approach works through consultation procedures with the community and provides for an inclusive structure. As I said, I chair the community partnership, but my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) is the vice-chair and my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Mr. Ennis) is a member of the policy board. The chief executive of the local authority and the chief constable for South Yorkshire are also on the board. Since the new constitution was instituted, the chief executive of the health authority has also been present, so there is always an input from the highest level to ensure that policy is thought through and followed at operational level.

From what I have seen of the inter-agency approach, I believe that it assists in mobilising the community to achieve fair results in certain circumstances. There has

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been criticism about local authorities not using the new panoply of measures available under the Crime and Disorder Act, for example, such as the anti-social orders and curfew orders. In Barnsley we have not yet used either of them; the community approach creates a situation that is conducive to achieving results without having to do so.

I shall give an example of that. We arranged several meetings two years ago, through the tenants and residents association, on one of the problem estates in Barnsley. We had identified addresses where substances were being disposed of at weekends. The estate was consequently full of young people coming to get hold of those substances and they created mayhem, particularly for the elderly. The first meeting we had was attended by the police, the chief executive, the head of housing, the head of social services, my colleagues and me, with around 70 or 80 residents present to discuss how to deal with the problem. The people responsible for the trouble came in to intimidate the participants in the hope that names would not be given and after the meeting there was an increase in burglaries. However, the residents were determined and stuck to their guns. More meetings followed and, after identifying the addresses, visiting the premises and seeing that they were in a poor state of repair, the local authority was eventually able to move two households off the estate. The third household that had been causing a problem followed. As a result, the problem on the estate was cleared up. Every other house on that estate is now in the neighbourhood watch scheme. We were, therefore, able to deal with the problem on the estate without resorting to anti-social behaviour orders.

The Minister should bear in mind the fact that when people are moved on--which happens not only in Barnsley but nationally--the problem is merely displaced. The question is how to deal with the problem. Instead of merely moving a household on to settle in another part of the borough and cause the same problem, should we not be able to ensure that sanctions are applied through, say, a life style centre, which would rehabilitate people in the community? That would avoid the creation of ghettos, which appears to be occurring in certain areas of Barnsley, and which will have to be dealt with robustly. Will the Minister consider how the problem might be tackled? It will have to be addressed during the next two years.

As partnerships are conducive to dealing with thorny social problems, anti-social behaviour orders are not always necessary. Another important factor in relation to a partnership is that it recognises that crime is not an isolated matter--it challenges the community to think about the impact on crime of other factors. In that context, poverty, poor educational attainment, unemployment and health are recognised as playing a role in the criminality of an area. Some of the statistics in relation to Barnsley show that clearly.

I want to make a statistical comparison between 1979 and 1994. In 1979, Barnsley was quite a prosperous area, and, if my memory serves me correctly, the average wage in the town was a few percentage points above the national average, while crime was 25 per cent. below the national average. In 1994, when the local authority carried out a survey across Barnsley, it found that the

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average income per household on the council estates was between £5,000 and £6,000. The average income across the borough was £11,000. That compared with an average income of more than £18,000 for the rest of Yorkshire and Humberside. That indicates just how deprived the area was at that time. In 1994, crime in the area was 13 per cent. above the national average. Those statistics highlight the other social factors that impact on crime.

Mr. Coaker : Will my hon. Friend recognise a further problem in relation to the economic change to which he refers? In the mining communities that he knows well, and in the mining communities in Nottinghamshire, the social glue disappeared, which had an impact on crime. Communities must be put back together if we want to tackle crime.

Mr. Clapham : I thank my hon. Friend for that timely intervention, which he made pointedly. Communities did fall apart, and crime prevention partnerships can be part and parcel of rebuilding them. That is very much how we see it in Barnsley. It is a central part of the local authority's regeneration strategy.

We have set out to ensure that educational attainment is lifted to the national average level. In Barnsley, the average attainment level, measured by a pupil who attains five GCSEs with grades between A and C, is currently about 31 per cent. I believe that the national average is about 45 per cent. The authority has an ambitious programme to reach the national average level of educational attainment within four years. Much emphasis is therefore being placed on education, projects for parents and young children and drug projects.

One of the main causes of burglary in Barnsley, as in the country in general, is drug-related crime. Until 1994, we did not have a drugs problem. In 1994, we knew precisely where the stuff was coming in from, and we saw an influx of heroin. The drugs action team estimates that about 5,000 people out of a population of 235,000 regularly take heroin.

Sheffield university's analysis of burglary statistics shows that we have a high level of burglary compared with the national average. In four areas in my constituency and the constituency of Barnsley, Central, the level of burglary is four times the national average. However, that applies to a very small area. Forty-three per cent. of burglaries are carried out by just 5 per cent. of offenders, and those 5 per cent. tend to be substance abusers.

The drugs problem has caused an enormous problem for the local authority. Much work is being done. The difficulty is in funding the crime prevention framework and ensuring that it contains a coherent strategy for treatment and rehabilitation after treatment. In Barnsley, 70 per cent. of crime is said to be related to drugs.

This year, the average level of crime in Barnsley fell. The borough is divided into two police districts, D and E. In E district, crime is down this year by 7.4 per cent., and in D district, by 12 per cent. Throughout the borough, violent crime is down by 8 per cent. Having served as its chairman for the past five years, I believe that the crime prevention partnership has played an

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important part in reducing crime. I realise that caution should be exercised in analysing crime statistics, but the statistics to which I refer are clear.

Barnsley's partnership is now firmly embedded in the community, and we are achieving results. However, I am not ignoring the physical measures that have been introduced. I accept that CCTV camera projects in both the town centre and Grimethorpe have had an effect and that improvements in lighting, fencing and locks for the elderly, among other measures, have played their part. I am not ignoring the physical issues. They are important, but they are generally short-term measures undertaken, in this context, with an important endeavour. However, prevention through social measures such as early intervention schemes including sure start--on which I hope that the Minister will work closely with his colleagues in the Cabinet Office, because it is an important project--and care in the community projects financed by Joseph Rowntree offer a great many lessons.

I hope that the Minister will examine some of those projects, because they are extremely important. One such project running in Barnsley will, I hope, give us the opportunity of rolling the benefits out across the community. Safety community partnerships provide the essential framework to sustain safer communities in the long term.

4.30 pm

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): I should like to begin by saying that, in contrast to the views expressed by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) and the shadow Home Office team, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 has been warmly applauded by the Association of Chief Police Officers, local authorities and the other agencies involved in the crime reduction partnerships. This approach is an opportunity to involve everyone in the fight against crime, and to ensure that we have the extra orders that we need to tackle certain forms of anti-social behaviour.

This is in sharp contrast to the approach adopted in the 1980s and 1990s, when to a great extent the approach was fragmented. Agencies were encouraged to adopt a hostile approach to one another, there was a strong element of passing the buck, and it was difficult for agencies to co-operate. The starting point now should be the approach that the Government are adopting which will bring the necessary elements together to give us a real chance to make a difference.

I have been concerned recently to see that the Opposition have chosen to describe both this approach and the crime and disorder legislation as failures because there has not been massive use of provisions such as anti-social behaviour orders. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham), I believe that such orders should be used only when all other efforts have failed. We should not rush to use them immediately. The first anti-social behaviour orders have now been made in Birmingham, but this should not be seen as some kind of macho test to see who has issued the most orders or how quickly they have been implemented. The test should be: why were the orders applied and how were they used?

The first orders to be made in Birmingham were, interestingly, used in cases of prostitution to ban people from a neighbourhood where the local population had

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persistently complained about the level of harassment and distress that they were experiencing. This was a joint effort between the police, local people and the local authority, and it was eventually concluded that, having used every other power at their disposal, an anti-social behaviour order would be an effective way of banning the people in question from the area. That is the right use of such an order in the context of the legislation, and an example of a partnership coming together to tackle a problem that is causing distress to the community.

Three further orders have been made recently on a housing estate in Birmingham, which have more to do with youths engaging in a succession of anti-social acts. However, I cited the case that focused on prostitution because that is an area in which it is often difficult for the local community to take legal action, and there can be no doubt about the distress that it causes to people.

The hon. Member for Aylesbury said that the concept of partnership was new and I accept that. However, he implied that the Government were wrong to take the credit for putting partnership at the centre of their approach to crime and disorder. The Government are trying to develop a new and slightly different emphasis but the Opposition are trying to reduce our debate to a simple argument about police numbers. The Opposition have decided to make that the focus of our debate and that narrow, opportunistic approach is to be expected, but the danger is that it takes us back to the position in the 1980s and 1990s when people believed that the police were the only element in the strategy. The police would be the first to say that they cannot work in that way and that it is a recipe for failure, which is a good reason for moving away from the narrow focus on police numbers and broadening the approach to include other agencies that can make a difference.

If the Opposition are desperate to focus on police numbers, they must concede that numbers have been falling since 1993. It is reasonable to ask them what commitment they have made on resources, because it is clear that they cannot sustain the numbers that the Government have promised and manage their £16 billion cuts in public expenditure. We are entitled to an answer to that question. Another important point about police numbers, which is part of the general trend in this approach, is that it is not simply that there has been a reduction in police numbers; other factors are in play. I shall cite the west midlands, with which I am most familiar.

During the past couple of years we have seen a significant shift in sector policing. That is happening in other parts of the country and is crucial for two reasons. First, it moves police officers to front-line policing duties. Previously, they were often engaged in civilian and administration tasks at police headquarters. There has been a change in numbers, but the police are being used more efficiently by policing the community in the front line. There has been a massive corresponding rise in the number of civilian staff employed for many of the duties that were previously performed by police officers. The police authority and the chief constable have made that decision because they recognise that it provides better value for money and uses the police for the purpose for which they are intended.

For me, perhaps the Government's greatest success of this approach has been seen in the relationship between central Government targets and what happens on the

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ground. We were told earlier of criticisms and that the thematic report from Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary criticised the lack of analysis and the problem of setting targets without proper analysis. It emphasised the need to move from analysis and targets to monitoring the process and the outcome, and that is right.

I shall take the example of vehicle crime in Birmingham and the west midlands and the target to cut it by 30 per cent. over five years. As vice-chairman of the European Secure Vehicle Alliance, I have an interest in the subject. Birmingham and the west midlands have a particularly large problem with vehicle crime. It costs the country about £3.5 billion a year and during the past five years about 1 million vehicles were never recovered. It has an impact on many people's lives in different ways. It can prevent them from going to work to do their jobs or wreck their family plans and arrangements. It is an unpleasant and costly crime.

Last year, West Midlands police launched Operation Auto Guard, a four-week offensive to cut vehicle crime. When they engaged in a similar operation two years previously, they arrested around 1,700 people. There was a dramatic drop in that crime in certain areas of the city, because relatively small numbers of people commit such offences. A single operation can have a dramatic impact. However, what was important was not only the four-week police offensive, but the relationship between that action and other activities by the other parts of the partnership.

I mentioned abandoned vehicles. That element of vehicle crime, which has grown massively, is causing significant problems in the west midlands. It may have something to do with the fall in the value of scrap metal and the impact of that on the cost of vehicles. It is estimated that around 10,000 vehicles a year are dumped in Birmingham, compared with just 2,000 a few years ago.

In the past, it has been difficult to solve that problem because different agencies have denied responsibility. It has been difficult to obtain information from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, and many complications have arisen in the process of identifying who owns the vehicle and who is responsible. As a result, it has often been difficult for an agency to take action. Now, the police and the local authority are co-operating through the crime partnership. They have established a protocol on information sharing. When the police identify a registered keeper, that person is notified and told that the vehicle will be disposed of within 14 days if they do not remove it. If the registered keeper cannot be identified, the vehicle is disposed of immediately. That is having a significant impact in certain areas of the city.

The problem is not merely that vehicles are abandoned--they are often set on fire, which causes further distress to local residents and puts pressure on the fire service and other agencies. Pulling the partnership together to tackle the problem is having a general beneficial effect. There is a direct connection between the Government's targets to cut vehicle crime by 30 per cent. in five years, working through the police authority, and the crime reduction partnerships. Each part of the set-up can make its own valuable contribution.

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I was a little surprised by the reference of the hon. Member for Aylesbury to "Calling Time on Crime". I recently went to a seminar given by Mr. Keith Povey, Her Majesty's inspector of constabulary, who is responsible for the report. Having listened to him, I would not have recognised the description of the report that we heard today. It is true that the thematic report, which was a massive piece of work, drew attention to the dangers of too many initiatives, too many different reporting phases, and failing soundly to base practice on proper crime analysis. However, the report identifies the steps that are necessary to improve the performance of partnerships. It would be a terrible mistake for anyone to give the impression that the report is generally critical of the approach. It is generally positive about it, but draws out the lessons that need to be learned so that we can improve the performance of the partnerships. That is vital.

We should be careful not to allow this generally positive approach to dealing with crime to be lost in the alarmist remarks that we recently heard following the publication of the latest crime figures. It is true that the figures show rises in some areas and in particular offences, which is a cause for concern. However, we should consider what lies behind the figures. In the west midlands, 4 per cent. of the rise can probably be explained by the new approach to recording. The West Midlands police have been consistently criticised in relation to the accuracy of their reporting, and they have made a major effort to improve it. That is why the figure is slightly higher.

It is in no one's interest to go back to the days when people tried to produce better figures by fiddling them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) said, we have seen much higher levels of reporting for particular offences, such as domestic violence and racially motivated crimes. The encouragement that people get from the partnerships makes it possible for them to be more open in their reporting of offences. Rather than allow our alarm at the figures to weaken that approach, we should recognise that there will be increased reporting, which will, in turn, increase the figures. That is the least of our concerns; our main concern should be to paint as accurate a picture as possible and put in place the strategies that will have the greatest impact.

The issue of ownership is crucial. Crime affects all of us--the public, local authorities, the fire service, youth offending teams, and education services. All of us, including the police, must work together and prioritise our concerns, if we are to have a major impact on crime. The partnership approach is winning over people who had come to the conclusion that everything was the fault of the police or that there was nothing that could be done. We should focus on the fact that, although there are lessons to be learned that will help us improve performance, the current approach is drawing new people into the battle against crime. That is why it is the right one.

4.47 pm

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South): My constituency is in the Cleveland area, where, in recent months, a question mark has been placed against the capability of the police. I should like to put that right, in the context of our discussion on crime reduction partnerships.

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Cleveland police have embraced the concept of partnership; they have looked for partnerships, fought for them and developed them.

The chief constable, the local authorities and the probation service in my area have warmly welcomed the embrace of the Government. Of course, they want more financial resources, but they like the idea that we are carrying out an effective and accurate analysis, which drives effective strategies. There has been a positive response from the partnerships that I know.

Some of the figures for Cleveland--especially Stockton--are persuasive. We have bucked the trend, and our overall crime figure for 1999-2000 was down. It was down only marginally--by 2.2 per cent.--but nevertheless it was down. We acted effectively, bringing the public on board. People were prepared to be part of the effort and were ready to give evidence. We are saying to people, "Please, don't be prisoners in your own homes. Come and tell us what is going on." Only when that dialogue is publicly articulated can we begin to deal with the issues of crime.

That is the start. I am even more proud of my patch. The figures show that house burglary has been reduced by more than 22 per cent. More than 500 extra people have felt a benefit. The down side of being burgled is monstrous. I was burgled four times in five weeks and became a veritable prisoner in my own home. I would not allow my 14-year-old daughter to go home alone, which made her indignant, but I was concerned that she could come home and find that someone had been in, taken things and caused disruption. The home is so precious, and for someone to abuse it in such a way is a nightmare. I am extremely pleased for my constituents that burglary rates are down, so there seems to be a turning of that tide. In Stockton, we also have fewer crimes of violence. The reduction is only small, but the rates are nevertheless down.

I realise that my colleagues are keen to speak, so I shall briefly refer to two initiatives that have focused on reducing crime, especially burglary. The initiatives have determinedly considered the use of CCTV, and I must tell the Minister that every other household wants it. I am not convinced that it is a perfect answer, but it certainly reassures many people, so we have increased its use. I shall soon ask for additional money on that score, and I hope to receive it. With CCTV, people feel that the police can at least watch, monitor and respond quickly to behaviour that is highly suspect.

We have had a superb response from our schools. More than 70 per cent. of schools in Cleveland have been covered by a crime reduction initiative. Our junior crime prevention panels are a striking success. We are beginning to talk to young victims of people who sell drugs outside our school gates and on our street corners. In my multi-deprivation areas, such drug sellers are the only people who drive spectacular cars. Catching them and having evidence to convict them is monstrously hard, but children are becoming good at warning schools, and the schools warn the police. The network is beginning to have an effect on the prevention and reduction of such crimes in our community.

Landlords of pubs are valuable in our partnerships. They do not want people to abuse a substance that they sell, and they certainly do not want other substances sold on their premises. For the first time in my

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community's leisure life, people are beginning to believe that there is hope. Those of us who have teenagers see them go out at 8 o'clock in the evening looking beautiful. We give them money for taxis, and from 12 o'clock on we listen to hear the door latch. That is the tyranny for families and youngsters, but I see a change beginning. We have spoken to taxi drivers and have them on board, so that they act as a source of protection for our youngsters and another source of information.

There was a startling drop in crime under round 2 of Stockton's burglary reduction initiative, which was implemented in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook). The focus was on two seriously deprived areas that had enormous problems. With the effective involvement of so many different partners, household burglary was reduced by more than 76 per cent in one year. That figure shows that neighbourhoods can be confident that the police, the probation service and the local authority are there for them. People in those neighbourhoods will become confident that their citizenship is worth fighting for once again, and they will give evidence even though people may threaten them for doing so. They will give evidence because they know that we are a fair society.

I should mention our approach on domestic violence, which is a problem that has been a serious cause of concern to me throughout my working life. I have worked with people who have been abused by their partners. Some women are prisoners in their homes, and when I took evidence their children would say to me, "I put my pillow over my head because I did not want to hear Mum screaming again or shouting, 'Please, someone help me.'" I have been through that with youngsters and I know the hideousness that so many women face. However, when we ask ourselves, "What can we do?", we are beginning to answer the question. There has been an increase of over 14 per cent. in the reporting of domestic violence cases in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North. That thrills me no end. It tells me that women are no longer prepared to be smacked, beaten and intimidated by men who feel that such behaviour is their only power base.

Again, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take that on board because the straight fact is that we must support women who are prepared to report such crime. The issue of contact is monstrously serious. It is totally unacceptable for partners, previous husbands and fathers to be given contact with their children, only to use it to blackmail, intimidate and threaten women. In such circumstances, women will back off and return into hiding--when we want them to come forward. We want domestic violence to stop and to be able to say that we have a society in which decency prevails.

The police partnerships in Cleveland and Stockton are working and are producing some superb responses. I want better and earlier responses, as we all do, but partnerships have shown that people are working together effectively. However, I should strike a negative note in regard to inquiries into police authorities. The Lancet inquiry, and previously the Charrington inquiry, into Cleveland both took an enormous time and a formidable amount of money--perhaps upwards of £4 million to £5 million the second time around--and both fell, neither producing evidence that could lead to criminal prosecutions. As a result, the people in the Tees

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constituencies feel thoroughly let down and do not feel confident in their policing service. I make a plea to my hon. Friend the Minister to give that serious consideration. We need an independent inquiry board, not the police carrying out inquiries into themselves. Such inquiries should be independently framed, outside the police authority, so that time can be concentrated and evidence scrutinised without taking the police away from other responsibilities.

The partnerships that we have put together are leading to some reasonable and accurate statistics that tell us that crime is beginning to be confronted and reduced in our communities.

4.58 pm

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West): One of the ground-breaking principles enshrined in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was the statutory recognition that crime and disorder affect the whole of society, requiring joint working and a multi-agency approach. That is to be welcomed. If we are to develop strategies to deal with crime and disorder, the whole of society has to become involved. I spoke today to the deputy chief constable of North Wales police, who spoke highly of the principles behind the Act and its emphasis on partnership working. The message from north Wales is that partnerships are an excellent idea that are already beginning to yield considerable results in terms of crime reduction.

In the limited time available, I would like to deal with a few issues. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham), who is to be congratulated on chairing his own partnership--I am not sure how he finds the time, but I am sure that it has gained much from having Members of Parliament as its chair and vice-chair--that crime reduction is linked to the economic and social regeneration of our communities, especially in deprived areas. I hope that you will allow me to talk about my own constituency for a while, Madam Deputy Speaker. The major town in my constituency is Colwyn Bay, which is a coastal resort and the second largest town in north Wales. Coastal resorts have faced problems for several years, as the traditional British seaside resort declines. Social problems have accompanied that decline in economic fortunes.

Mugging and anti-social behaviour are the major crime problems on the north Wales coast. That is linked with the problem of houses in multiple occupation. A great number of people--many of them vulnerable people with drug and other problems--come to areas such as north Wales and other seaside resorts throughout the United Kingdom. They are often enticed by the offer of accommodation from unscrupulous commercial landlords who are playing the housing benefit system. That matter was addressed in a report about housing benefits published this morning by the Social Security Committee. Those landlords house people in poor accommodation but are able to get the housing benefit. That is a problem that the Department of Social Security, as much as the Home Office, must tackle.

There is a link between crime and poor housing. There is a need for a system that enables registration of houses in multiple occupation. There is a role for a partnership

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approach between those charged with environmental health regulatory functions within local councils and the police. A few weeks ago, I was heartened to visit a meeting of a crime reduction partnership in my constituency, which focused on problems in an area called Pensarn, which is also on the north Wales coast. I am pleased to say that the crime reduction partnership that has been established in the county of Conwy is focusing real attention on problems associated with that community, and that results have been achieved already.

I congratulate the Minister on initiating the debate. The project is a long-term one and results are not going to be immediate, although we are beginning to see encouraging signs. However, it represents a real sea change in that agencies, councils, probation officers and people within other organisations are taking the view that the buck should not be passed. We want to find solutions.

I should like the Minister to deal with a small number of specific points in his winding-up speech, but if he does not have time to do so, perhaps he will write to me. I referred earlier to the manner in which regional crime directors have been appointed. I accept the need for co-ordination. Indeed, common sense suggests that we must ensure that best practice is disseminated among the various partnerships throughout the country. Do the Government intend to give a monitoring and auditing role to regional crime directors? The Home Office seems to be giving out confusing signals. The job description for regional crime directors in England and Wales stated that one of their functions was to

The deputy chief constable of North Wales police said that there does not seem to be a statutory basis in law for giving an audit function to regional crime directors. Reflecting his concerns, my plea is for us to ensure that there is not too much bureaucracy and that the good work undertaken by crime reduction partnerships is not smothered by a heavy-handed bureaucratic approach. When referring to the recently appointed crime reduction director for Wales--a Welsh Assembly appointment, although policing is a Home Office matter which has not been devolved--the deputy chief constable said:

5.7 pm

Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling): This debate is very important because, without law and order--however it is achieved--our communities cannot function. Since I became a Member of Parliament in 1997, among the many problems that constituents approach me about are those of crime and anti-social behaviour, matters on which people always have an opinion. They are all worried about it, whether at a national or local level. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister and the Government for their work on crime. The number of police officers on our streets is important, and that is

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now being dealt with. If we really want to make an impact on crime, we must adopt the partnership approach. The police, on their own, cannot solve crime in our communities.

I am not making a political point, but it is a difficult message to get across. Whether we have a Conservative Government, a Liberal Democrat Government or a Labour Government, people will base their judgment of how much is being done about crime on the number of police on the streets. However, other ways of fighting fight crime and tackling disorder are also important. I agree with the hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) that we must listen to people and involve them. If we do not engage in such a debate in a sensible and mature way, it will be difficult to make progress. I know that it makes for a good political to and fro in Westminster Hall, but if the debate comes down to how many police are on the streets now as opposed to how many there used to be, it will not be an intelligent debate and we will not move forward. That is not to say that the number of police is not important and that a visible police presence is not something that we are all striving to achieve--I say that in case any of my constituents read this! We need more police, and I know that the Government are looking into that.

The Gedling crime reduction partnership in Nottingham is working well. Local input and local priorities are especially important, and a wide range of bodies are involved--the police, the local authority, neighbourhood watch groups, the voluntary sector and business. Significant results have been achieved. There has been a 25 per cent. reduction in domestic burglary since 1997-98. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) referred to the impact on people whose homes are burgled. Theft of vehicles has fallen by 53 per cent., which is a big reduction. Theft from vehicles has fallen by 17 per cent., and criminal damage is at its lowest level for five years. Violent crime has increased, however, which must concern us all. There is no point trying to fudge that; it is a worry. If the increase in violent crime is partly due to people reporting crimes of violence in the home, which they were not previously willing to do, I hope that the figure continues to rise for that reason. Nothing is worse than people feeling unable to report crimes of domestic violence because of fear. All Governments have tried to address that problem in relation to the reporting of rape, and domestic violence should be addressed in the same way.

The Gedling crime reduction partnership has set targets for tackling the increase in violent crime using local statistics. Making it a local priority should increase the effectiveness of methods to tackle the problem. There has been some excellent news on crime reduction partnerships, and the empowering of local communities is especially important. Local people, including those in the partnership, have asked me how to make crime reduction more effective. Those are questions for all of us, and the Minister will not be able to give answers to every one. One such question is how to restore the legitimate authority of the police. Local people have raised that issue with me, as well as within the partnership. Sometimes the police are confronted with particular difficulties when they attend incidents. We must try to ensure that their legitimate authority is maintained.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) said that the existence of anti-social behaviour orders encourage people to work together. The fact that we do not have a league table of local authorities that have issued the most anti-social behaviour orders does not necessarily mean that they have not been effective. The Home Office has examined the bureaucracy involved in the use of those orders, and has produced new guidelines. I hope that the Minister will ensure that local authorities regard anti-social behaviour orders not just as a last resort but as a measure that can be used if appropriate. There was a famous case in Nottingham of an individual who was subject to an anti-social behaviour order. Local people who became aware of the length of the individual's criminal record did not understand why such a person had been allowed to commit so many crimes for so long before anything had been done about it. Sometimes I wonder why an anti-social behaviour order has been used, because the individual concerned should already have been locked up. However, we should continue to encourage people to view anti-social behaviour orders as a way forward.

As my hon. Friend the Minister will know, I raised the issue of curfews in a ten-minute Bill. We should reconsider the age limit. Curfews can be applied in an area only for young people up to the age of 10. The Home Office is considering raising the limit to 15, which would be useful. I do not suggest that people should be compelled to use the measure, but it should be available if crime reduction partnerships feel that it would be appropriate. My own local authority has one or two open spaces, shops and other areas, and having such a power for a month or six weeks would enable the police, the local authority and people working together to bring that area back under control.

My crime reduction partnership has problems in dealing with nuisance neighbours quickly and effectively. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone made an excellent point. We are not trying merely to dump people on to another community, but some nuisance neighbours cause such mayhem that it is difficult for crime reduction partnerships to deal with them. It is a particular problem when a family with young children is causing the problem. No one wants to evict people and put them on the street when young children are involved, but people who come to my surgery ask what on earth they should do about people who simply will not abide by the normal rules of civilised behaviour in a community. They say to me, "It is all right for you. I feel sorry for the kids, but you don't have to live next door to it every day." The law presents a genuine problem in dealing with such matters, and I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider how we should proceed, as, indeed, I am sure he is.

The Government are considering the issue of neighbourhood wardens and the re-establishment of figures of authority, on which I am especially keen. I was brought up in London, which used to have uniformed park keepers on bikes, with radios. We used to be frightened of the parkie. I do not suggest bringing back the parkie as a replacement for the police, but too often we have got rid of bus conductors, station staff, caretakers on housing estates and park keepers. Although such figures of authority would not be able to deal with drug dealers or violent behaviour, they could

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have a role to play in creating an image of authority in and around those areas. If park keepers or something similar were re-established, parents might feel more comfortable about their children going to parks.

We talk a lot about young people being a problem. However, my visits to schools suggest that young people are as worried about crime as we are. They are often the victims of crime. They suffer in our communities, and they want something to be done. One of the problems facing our crime reduction partnership is that we focus on the negative side of young people, whereas many of our youngsters have limited local facilities for play and recreation, such as skateboarding.

I make a plea: everyone is favour of more facilities for our young people and says that it is dreadful that they have nowhere to go. However, as soon as we start discussing where to put a skateboard park or various facilities, people start raising all sorts of objections to it. We should adopt a mature, grown-up approach to the matter. Our young people deserve a little better than they sometimes get in some of our communities, especially in terms of facilities. Much as I want anti-social behaviour to be clamped down on, some of our young people are only really hanging around, not causing trouble.

Locally, the crime reduction partnership is working well. I emphasise that partnership is the only way forward. Crime is the responsibility of all of us. One of the things that crime reduction partnerships are trying to do relates to a point made by my hon. Friend for Barnsley, West and Penistone. As he will know, one of the problems in our coal communities was that, when the pit went, the social glue went. The self-policing of those communities declined, and their authority and self-discipline were undermined. Part of the purpose of crime reduction partnerships is to restore that self-discipline and the concept of the community policing itself.

We talk about putting more police on the street, about changing the law and about cracking down on crime, and all those measures have a role to play. However, the partnerships are also crucially about reinvigorating and regenerating the belief that policing of communities is ultimately the responsibility of the community itself. People have a responsibility to police themselves, and restoring that responsibility will have as great an impact on crime as flooding the streets with police.

5.20 pm

Mr. Keith Darvill (Upminster): I shall be brief, Madam Deputy Speaker, as time is short.

My constituency is in an area where levels of crime have fallen over the past three years--there have been increases in some areas, but generally there has been a reduction. To that extent, the local partnership in our area has been successful. To be fair, the reduction in crime was taking place before that period, but there has also been a marked reduction during that time. In London--I think that I am the only hon. Member here today who represents a London constituency--my area is near the top of the league in terms of safe areas.

Our local partnership has had significant success in forming youth offending teams in which members of the police service, the probation service and the local

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authority work actively together under the same roof, in accordance with the programme of reducing youth crime. That has been very successful. There has been a significant partnership in Romford town centre--just outside my constituency--which is the main retail shopping area in the vicinity. There has been a significant reduction in retail crime there since November 1998: levels are 49 per cent. lower than in November 1997. In 1999, there were 41 retail crime free days.

That partnership takes photographs of habitual criminals, which are issued in accordance with the provisions of data protection legislation. That information is then assessed by the local police and the partnership organisers. The retailers involved also gather information and pass it on to the police, both through closed circuit television and in written format. The courts involved examine the published results; they are made aware of the information and build it into their considerations of bail conditions, and so on. The partnership has been very effective, which has been recognised by the Home Office. It has been a positive success. Other CCTV extensions have flowed from information provided to the partnerships, and the priorities for those have been set at partnership level.

During the past few weeks, a neighbourhood watch scheme has been extended and 100 per cent. of the houses contacted joined the scheme. That is a further example of the concentration on the important issue of reducing crime. Local community police have been appointed in a number of areas in my constituency, and they are doing sterling work, especially in schools. A range of successful partnership initiatives is having an impact on reducing crime.

However, in a debate such as this it would be wrong to dwell only on the successes. We must also examine the failings. All is not sweetness and light and, as other hon. Members have said, the main areas of increased crime are violent crime and crimes related to anti-social behaviour. The partnerships need to focus on those areas to bring about reductions.

When I was preparing for this debate, I looked at the consultative document that the Home Office published in 1997, "Getting to Grips with Crime". Chapter 3 deals with the post-legislation aspect, especially in relation to funding. It states that the Home Office did not, at that stage, envisage any increased funding for the partnerships and suggests that in the longer term they could be financed through substantial savings.

All the partners in my local area have embraced the policy with great enthusiasm. However, if local authority funding is particularly pressed--as it is in my area--the initiatives that can be developed are weakened. Although resources are being devoted to the youth offending teams, and to other initiatives to which I have referred, targeting the estates where violent crime takes place and car crime is at its highest levels would have the greatest impact in reducing crime.

There should be some recognition of those burdens in the funding arrangements for local authorities. In using the word "burdens", I do not mean to be critical of the Government. In my area we embrace the policy enthusiastically and want to initiate projects that would help to reduce crime even further. Ultimately, however, a local authority can do only what its funding allows it

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to do, and it is important to take that into account. I know of estates that could work with the police and the local authority in targeting youth offending, but the local authority does not have the resources to do so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) referred to the park keeper. In my area, an organisation called Green Patrol patrols local parks, and is active in the partnership. Because of its funding difficulties, the local authority has had to reduce the number of people who are employed in the patrols, which leads to a reduction in the effectiveness of the partnership. The local authority can have an impact in other respects, such as housing. Again, funding has been reduced and some initiatives have therefore not been as good as it would like.

I embrace the partnership initiative at national, as well as local, level. It can still go further, and it gives us the opportunity to have a significant impact on reducing crime. However, the funding of local authorities must be considered as a matter of urgency if we are to deliver the benefits that are there to be taken.

5.27 pm

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk): Much sense has been talked this afternoon. In the interests of avoiding repetition, I am grateful that I can agree with much of what was said. That may be partly due to the fact that not a single Back Bencher from the Tory party has been present.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the annual meeting of my local partnership, from which I came away heartened. I should like to make three simple points to my hon. Friend the Minister, dwelling on a suggestion that was made during the meeting.

First, partnerships are promising, but they are still new. Despite the comments of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), I know from 20-odd years in local government, and involvement with the police authority, that in the past partnerships were relatively unstructured and ad hoc, and depended on individual initiatives. Frankly, they were a pathetic shadow of what the Government have introduced. Because the partnerships are new, they must be nurtured. That is the Government's role, now that they have established them and given them many of the tools that they require in relation to changes in the law--the new powers and orders, which will be very helpful--and resourcing.

The people at the meeting were delighted that on the previous day they had received a positive response from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in the form of an award of £600,000 to address the specific problems of the Fens--where the case of one of my best-known constituents, the farmer Tony Martin, has highlighted crime in the rural parts of my constituency and, perhaps more importantly, the fear of crime. The crime statistics do not take account of the fear of violence, especially in isolated communities, which can have as dramatic an effect on my constituents as actual crimes.They are pleased that the Government are taking these steps.

I was pleased that Dr. Henry Tam, who has been appointed regional director of crime reduction but has not yet taken up his post, was present at the meeting and I want to say something about his role. Despite the concerns expressed this afternoon, I believe that there is a role to be played, whether statutory or not. My local

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partnership will welcome a friendly critic who wants to point it in the direction of good practice elsewhere and who makes it face up to facts, albeit sometimes unpleasant facts, if it is not on target to meet its objectives. I welcomed Dr. Tam's contribution to the meeting and the fact that the chief constable spent the morning with the partnership.

In nurturing the partnerships, the Government must work with them and listen to what they have to say, as well as guide them and aid them with resources. The greatest problem in addressing crime in my constituency is to persuade the community that we want to involve everyone. When we refer to partnerships, we do not mean just the agencies in the community--the education and health authorities; we mean the people who live in the community because we need their help most. When they realise that our priorities are their priorities and that we are listening to what they want and passing that on to the Government, we shall have their co-operation. It is essential that crime is not seen to be a problem just for the police or someone else.

My hon. Friend the Minister suggested that he does not need a lot of time in which to reply. He said five or six minutes, but I shall try to allow him more than that. One issue arose at the meeting on which I want him to assure me that there will be wider debate. I know from announcements in Parliament that the Home Office is considering the possibility of part-time or retained police and there could be considerable advantages in such an initiative in the rural environment.

One of our biggest problems in Norfolk has been that, even when a local policeman is assigned to an area--in rural places, the area may be quite large--a major incident requires a huge amount of manpower. The most famous one is the Tony Martin case, but I can remember several other incidents during the past two years while I have been in post, including horrendous murders. It is right that police time and manpower are diverted to such incidents, but we often find that the local policeman is withdrawn afterwards and there is a long period without one.

In Norfolk, we have long experience of a retained fire service with properly trained firemen who do not spend 100 per cent. of their time as firemen, but are employed elsewhere and can be released for specific tasks. At our meeting, there were more than 100 people in the room, but only the police representatives were negative about having a retained service. I understood why, because part-time policing raises difficulties and the Home Office would have to be careful with such an initiative. The working group that I joined for the morning considered specific issues of rural policing. Many suggestions were made, some of which were as simple as ensuring that houses are numbered and thinking about the plants used on the periphery of a residence. It was also suggested that parish councils should co-operate more. There are 64 parishes in my constituency and they sometimes do things separately, rather than co-operating with each other. There are large numbers of retired policemen and others who could be trained to do some of the routine work, leaving serving police officers free to be more actively involved in chasing criminals.

As promised, I have raised the matter in Parliament and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will ensure that there is a decent debate on the subject. I bring him an offer from west Norfolk that my constituents would

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be most happy to be involved in piloting, however that is done. They want to co-operate within the partnership and to discover the advantages and disadvantages of some of the suggestions.

5.35 pm

Mr. Mike O'Brien : This good and important debate on crime and disorder reduction partnerships has shown how important it is that local communities, the police and local authorities are involved in tackling and reducing crime.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) gave a constructive evaluation of the ground-breaking approach to partnership in his constituency. Barnsley's approach has lessons for every part of the country and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his chairmanship of such a successful partnership. I will consider his interesting idea of life style centres and let him know what I think about it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe), in a high-quality contribution, said that crime and disorder partnerships reached parts of the problem that the police alone cannot reach. Crime in the west midlands will best be tackled by the community as a whole, working with the police, rather than by the police working alone.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) drew attention to the human toll of burglary. She is justly proud of helping to reduce the misery which burglary causes families. She also referred to the tyranny of crime among young people, who are often the victims, rather than the perpetrators, of crime. Although my children are young yet, I expect that the time will come when, like other parents, I will know the fear when they do not put their keys in the latch at midnight as expected, a feeling that my hon. Friend described. I hope that we can help to ensure that young people return from an enjoyable evening out without their parents having to worry.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner), who said that reducing the fear of crime is as important as reducing crime itself; my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South made a similar point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas) warned us of the need to tackle the causes of crime, including unscrupulous landlords. He also asked about regional crime directors, and I shall speak to him about that. Their job is to assist, advise and monitor. They will not be unwelcome as they will not try to take over. Their objective is to assist; they will ensure that best practice is followed throughout the country. David A'Herne, a former chief superintendant, will operate in Wales from 7 August. He has a great deal of experience and I am sure that he will make a valuable contribution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) said that rising statistics on domestic violence may reflect greater confidence in reporting incidents which were previously under-reported, rather than increasing crime. He made several other valuable points which I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. My hon. Friend the Member for

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Upminster (Mr. Darvill) emphasised the importance of CCTV and neighbourhood watch; I was particularly impressed by the local neighbourhood watch schemes in his constituency, one of which had a 100 per cent. response from local people. Areas such as Upminster and Barnsley have lessons for the rest of the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk asked me to look at special constables and retained police. I will draw the Minister of State's attention to my hon. Friend's contribution. My hon. Friend can pass to his constituents the message that the Government are listening to the points that they made.

In an excellent and non-partisan speech, the hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) welcomed the crime and disorder reduction partnerships. In particular, I appreciated her comment that more progress had been made in the 18 months since the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was enacted than in the previous 18 years. Of course, she expected me to welcome that. She is right to say that we have reduced the level of buck-passing between authorities. We are ensuring that organisations co-operate more, but there is much more work to do. I will reflect especially on several of the points that she made towards the end of her speech, which showed that parliamentary secondments work and are valuable.

The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) gave no commitment to matching the Government's funding to tackle crime. On 18 July, we announced an additional £1.6 billion for the police over three years, which would increase police funding by 21 per cent. to £9.3 billion by 2003-04. The Conservatives have made no commitment on new equipment, such as the public safety radio communications project, which will provide the new airwave communications system that the police need. The Conservatives have made no commitment to extra funding for crime reduction policies and did not suggest that they would match our efforts.

The hon. Gentleman said that he doubted whether such money would be available if a Conservative Government were in power. He thinks that they could not afford such commitments, but he suspects that a Labour Government could. I can tell him that the Labour Government can, and have planned for them. He need not worry about Labour Governments, but clearly his constituents need to worry about Conservative Governments. The Conservatives will not match our future spending commitments on crime and disorder; instead, they will cut spending on crime and disorder.

The hon. Gentleman's other rather incredible point was that Tory Ministers have some inherent super-quality that enables them to perform better than Labour Ministers. He argued that Conservatives would spend money better and have some sort of financial wisdom, managerial skill or other super-human quality that Labour Ministers could not match and that, somehow, Conservative Ministers would get more from less. That argument boils down to "Yah-boo sucks, we can do better than you." That is a laughable argument for any shadow Minister to advance. The hon. Gentleman must understand that, if he and his party are to be serious about tackling crime, they must provide answers on funding. They must do better than he did today, or the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) has done recently, because people

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know that the price of electing a Conservative Government will be a cut in funding to tackle crime and disorder.

The Government have ensured that we can tackle crime and disorder. Partnerships represent a long-overdue recognition that crime reduction is not simply a matter for the police. Everyone has a part to play. Through the record levels of investment in crime reduction programmes and the record funding for the police, and by raising the number of police officers by 2003 to its highest level ever, the Government are providing the tools and the structure of national and regional support for partnerships, backed up by localised training and guidance. We have shown our firm commitment to partnership by action and by deed.

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The fight against crime is an integral part of the Government's commitment to making Britain a better place in which to live. The role of crime and disorder reduction partnerships is essential in helping to achieve that most important objective. I am therefore grateful to hon. Members who contributed to this important debate. I am grateful to my hon. Friends, who turned up in force. I regret that there were not more Conservatives to support the hon. Member for Aylesbury. I am grateful for the valuable contributions from the Liberal Democrats. Fighting crime is important. We intend to carry that fight forward.

Question put and agreed to.

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