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Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman knows that the distribution of police grant is based on the standard spending assessment, which is agreed by the police authorities, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Government. However, it is not a formula over which any Home Secretary has ever sought control, and it is designed to distribute resources as fairly as possible. I well understand the concerns in Surrey, which I have sought partly to offset by the transitional grant--although I accept that that does not go the whole way. Surrey's problems illustrate that when the previous system operated before 1995-96, spending in Surrey was historically higher than in other comparable authorities. That is the root of the problem. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to see me about this matter, I shall be happy to arrange a meeting.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): I welcome my right hon. Friend's determination to deal faster with young criminals. Is he aware of the evidence of the success of the restorative justice experiments in the Thames Valley area? Does he believe that there is some conflict between using restorative justice--where young criminals accused for the first time may be asked to confront the victims of their crime--and speeding up bringing such people to justice?
Mr. Straw: We are certainly aware of the value of the systems of restorative justice that have been pioneered in Thames Valley by Charles Pollard, the chief constable, which are now being rolled out across the country under the provisions of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. There is no conflict between our determination to secure a halving of the time between arrest and sentence and restorative justice, as the procedures of restorative justice start at the beginning of the sentence, not the end. We have taken that into account.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): The Home Secretary has been saying for years, rightly, how important it is to nip the plague of graffiti vandalism in the bud. What exactly will his strategy do to put that into practice?
Mr. Straw: There are serious problems of graffiti and criminal damage in many areas which sometimes require action by the police. Usually, however, they require action by the local authorities, voluntary agencies and the police working together. I have seen a number of examples where the local authority has 24-hour anti-graffiti patrols or better lighting, where the authority is applying to the Government for closed circuit television and where the police are taking a properly oriented approach to those difficulties. Every single page of the document is designed to improve the safety and tranquillity of the hon. Gentleman's constituency, as well as the other 500 or so constituencies in England and Wales.
Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend is right. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has often said, the new deal is not only an economic programme but a programme to reduce crime. One of the encouraging examples that we were shown today in the Medway area was of new deal people being used to fit locks and bolts onto people's houses. Jobs were being provided, which is one way of getting down crime, and the targets were being hardened, which is another.
Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon): When members of the public voluntarily give DNA samples as part of a mass screening in a murder inquiry, for example, is it the Home Secretary's intention to allow those samples to be retained on a database with the member of the public's consent?
Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the success of his strategy will depend not only on the police, but on the partnerships in which they are being asked to engage? Historically, we have tried to secure efficiency through the inspectorate of constabulary; perhaps we need a body with wider powers if we are to eliminate the discrepancies in efficiency.
Mr. Straw: I agree. That is why I announced today that joint inspections would be conducted by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary and the Audit Commission, so that the other partners in the partnerships against crime are subject to the same rigorous assessment as the police.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): The Home Secretary rightly said that it is a priority to reduce administration and bureaucracy for the police. What estimate has he made of the additional work load imposed on senior police officers, in particular, by his own crime and disorder legislation?
Mr. Straw: I have not made an estimate. Senior police officers and operational officers throughout the country tell me that they regard the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 as the most important single anti-crime measure to be passed by the House since the war. They wanted it and they are delivering it. I am grateful to them.
Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and the 20 per cent. reduction in crime in Lancashire. I urge him to get local partnerships to pay especial attention to the horrendous problem of street crime, which can have the most devastating consequences for its victims and leads to the widespread fear of crime, contributing to the decline of the value of visits to town and village centres and rural centres. Does he agree that street crime is more a matter
Mr. Straw: Street crime is terrible wherever it takes place and can cause great fear. I know that my hon. Friend is making great efforts with the local authority and the Lancashire constabulary to tackle street crime. Exactly how it is tackled is a matter for the police and the local partnerships but part of the purpose of our crime reduction investment, including in closed circuit television and police targeted hot-spotting, is designed precisely to tackle street crime.
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): Why has not the Home Secretary implemented the recommendations of a recent internal Home Office report, which clearly stated that the sparsity factor should be taken into account when policing rural areas?
Mr. Straw: Because we said that we would not make changes in the standard spending assessment for three years. I understand the concerns about rural policing. Incidentally, the same concerns about policing levels are felt by hon. Members in inner urban areas, as they always will be. Under the guidance for the bidding for money from the crime-fighting fund for the additional 5,000 officers, we will invite bids that take into account, among other things, the need to improve crime fighting in rural areas.
Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement on the drug referral scheme. I have in my constituency an excellent drug rehabilitation group, the Open Road. Will such groups be involved in the initiative and will they have adequate funding to help them to help the Government to combat the drug problem?
Mr. Straw: The drug action teams should be fully involved in the crime reduction partnerships, because they are an integral part of tackling drug-related crime, which probably accounts for about half of all acquisitive crime. On the issue of resources, what is crucial in drug treatment--even more so than in policing--is not only the total amount invested, but the need to ensure that the money is properly used to purchase adequate numbers of treatments. The bureaucracy that has grown up around some drug action teams must be broken down to ensure a real and direct connection between the young people--as they are typically--who need drug treatment quickly, and the delivery of that treatment. In some areas, the contracts for drug treatment have been re-let, and twice--or more--the treatments are provided for the same amount of money than before.
Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it will be critical to the success of his strategy--we all hope that it will be successful--that those who are guilty are convicted? Will he, therefore, agree to look again at the rule that states that a jury may not, except in exceptional circumstances, be entitled to know about the previous convictions of the person appearing before them? Was it his experience in the past as a barrister, as it was mine as a solicitor, that sometimes juries look on in stark disbelief when they have