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House of Commons

Monday 9 April 2001

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

Crime Prevention and Reduction

1. Mr. Keith Darvill (Upminster): What assessment he has made of the impact of the provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 that place a statutory duty on local authorities to prevent and reduce crime. [156020]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): We established statutory partnerships to ensure that the resources and commitment of local councils, health authorities, schools, businesses and voluntary organisations could work better to support the police in the fight against crime. Those partnerships have been very successful and have helped secure the 10 per cent. reduction in crime measured by the 2000 British crime survey.

This morning, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Minister of State, Cabinet Office--my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney)--and I announced the allocation of £220 million over three years direct to crime and disorder partnerships to spend on measures to help to tackle local drugs markets.

Mr. Darvill: May I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply and tell him how welcome the provisions in the 1998 Act for promoting local partnerships are? However, does he agree, first, that more needs to be done to make local authorities more aware of the implications of section 17 of the Act and to encourage them to make crime and disorder a key consideration in all their areas of activity; and, secondly, that to make further progress in bearing down on antisocial behaviour, the necessary resources need to be devoted to local initiatives both by police and by local authorities?

Mr. Straw: I agree with both my hon. Friend's observations. A great deal has been done, but there is a great deal more to do; we should not be satisfied with the amount of co-operation that has been achieved until crime is almost eliminated from those areas. I have heard good reports from my hon. Friend about the crime and disorder partnership in Havering; there is no doubt at all that where

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the partnerships are really working, they are very effective indeed in helping to reduce crime and disorder and to make communities feel safer.

All local crime and disorder partnerships now have to put together their further strategies, which have to be ready by 2002. A great deal of work is going on between the Audit Commission, the Local Government Association and the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders better to ensure that they produce those strategies.

On my hon. Friend's second point, I accept the need for resources; many of them can come from the main programmes of local authorities and the police, because those programmes--for example, on housing--suffer if levels of crime and disorder are high. Savings can be made if levels are lower. The money announced today by my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Minister of State, Cabinet Office will go direct to the crime and disorder partnerships; they can use it in whatever way they think best--including, for example, paying for additional applications for antisocial behaviour orders.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): However well-intentioned the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was, is it not a disappointment in at least two respects? First, apparently the child curfew orders are non-existent. Secondly, 1,000 prisoners released early under section 99 have reoffended; some have committed serious offences involving rape, violence and drugs.

Mr. Straw: As the hon. Gentleman knows, amendments are before the other place to raise the level of child curfew orders to 16. We think that that will work. On early release, that provision was always embedded on the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which established the present sentencing framework. The only difference is that under our arrangements, we are providing proper through-care and better security for those who are released. Every prisoner--except a whole-lifer--is, in effect, released early.

Mr. Eddie O'Hara (Knowsley, South): My right hon. Friend will be aware that Knowsley came top of the league for its record on crime reduction. Will he join me in congratulating all those concerned--the council, the police and many other agencies--on achieving that excellent record? It sends out a message to the world that Knowsley is a decent, safe place in which to live and do business--and to that tiny minority who still disrupt the life of the decent citizens of Knowsley it sends the message that their behaviour will not be tolerated.

Mr. Straw: Yes, I congratulate the borough of Knowsley and the Merseyside police service for all their excellent work in getting crime down. We have provided local authorities and the police with the powers for which they asked us and which they need better to tackle crime and disorder. For example, I am pleased to tell the House that, in respect of antisocial behaviour orders, which the Opposition have promised--and I quote--"to tear up", more than 200 have been issued. The latest analysis of the actions taken by the courts in respect of the small number of breaches has found that, of 19 people thus charged,

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14 received a custodial sentence--a very, very good message that the courts, too, are taking the new orders seriously.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): The Home Secretary will know that we very much support crime reduction partnerships. Following the endorsement by the chief inspector of constabulary, I have received answers from Ministers stating that they see the community beat officer as an important part of the fight against crime locally. Given that level of agreement in the House and around the country, will the Home Secretary tell us what progress has been made in ensuring that community beat officers are in place? Do the Government have a target whereby every community will have its own recognised community beat officer? Have the Home Secretary and the Government yet been able to accept that there is also a place--in addition to neighbourhood wardens--for a community safety force under the authority of the local council to bring together all those other people with safety and policing responsibilities in a way that supports the police, gives a presence on the streets and reduces the amount of low-level and other crime?

Mr. Straw: To reassure the hon. Gentleman, he will know that there has at last been an increase in the number of officers in the Metropolitan police force, which is very welcome. In addition, the efforts of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis in bearing down on sickness are ensuring that there are 500 extra officers available for beat duty who were not previously available. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that, from next year, we shall require every chief officer for every area to say how each ward and borough is being policed, so we are ensuring a much sharper focus on what everyone regards as extremely important--policing at beat level.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington): May I ask my right hon. Friend to remind magistrates of the range of non-custodial sentences available under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, and urge them to use them, because they have a very important part to play in trying to curb reoffending? Will he also consider giving housing action trusts and social landlords, who are managing an increasing number of homes, powers to apply for antisocial behaviour orders?

Mr. Straw: On the second point, yes, we certainly will consider that, but meanwhile I tell my hon. Friend that there is no reason at all why housing associations should not co-operate with the local authority to get an antisocial behaviour order in respect of a social tenant who is not the tenant of the local authority--or indeed in respect of someone in private owner-occupation, because antisocial behaviour orders are available for all kinds of tenancy.

On the sentences that should be used, through the Magistrates Association, magistrates are given clear advice about the appropriate level of sentences that they ought to use, and we certainly look to them to issue tough sentences--that was Parliament's clear expectation on antisocial behaviour--when dealing with the terrible antisocial behaviour that has ravaged many neighbourhoods, but which we are now seeing turned around.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Given that only 200 antisocial behaviour orders have been made--not the 10,000 that the right hon. Gentleman anticipated; given

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that he started by saying that they were to be used as a last resort, then, four months later, said that they were not; given that the community police officer of the year has described the legislation as "unworkable"; given that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) rightly observed, not a single child curfew order has been issued; and given that local authorities across the country have been smothered with additional duties but deprived--

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is supposed to ask a question.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to you for that reminder, Mr. Speaker. I am coming to the question and I assure you that it will be worth it. Given that local authorities have been smothered with additional duties and deprived of the support to discharge them, why do not the right hon. Gentleman and his quintet of bumbling incompetents admit their consistent failure and make way for a team that wants to minimise bureaucracy, punish criminals and protect the law-abiding majority of decent citizens of this country?

Mr. Straw: In the unlikely, although possible, event that we were to make way for a team from the Opposition Benches, we would be making way for a Conservative party whose record is indelible: crime doubled under the Conservatives, while the number of people convicted of crime fell by a third. As for the legislation, late last year, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers described the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 as:

A former Conservative Home Office Minister said:

The other difference between us and the Conservatives, should they ever return to power, is that they would tear up the antisocial behaviour orders. Yes there have not been sufficient of them, but 200 communities are now living in safety as a result of the ASBOs and those communities would otherwise face control by the criminals and drug dealers that were there before.

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