Building Safer Communities

[back to previous text]

Mr. Michael: The people who will gain most from curfews are young people, as young people are the most frequent victims of crime, especially violent crime. By saying that young people should be in at night to get ready for school and so on, we will protect them not only from themselves, but from becoming victims.

I encourage the hon. Gentleman to do what I did about ASBOs, which was to tell the police and the local authority that there was no excuse not to make the orders. The difficulty of exchanging information between the two is no excuse. Although police and local authorities already had the power to exchange information for the reduction of crime, we included a big section on the subject in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to clarify matters. If the police and the local authority in the hon. Gentleman's area are not using ASBOs, they are failing the community and failing to prevent crime, as there is evidence that ASBOs lead not only to punishment, which they should do, but to the reduction of antisocial behaviour in the community.

Mr. Öpik: I am concerned about curfews being used as an independent tactic. The right hon. Gentleman is describing the strategic use of curfews in the context of a wider package of measures, which unquestionably makes more sense.

Mr. Michael: I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the 1998 Act and its guidance require a strategic partnership approach. I have checked with the Home Office, and similar guidance is to be issued in relation to the curfews for those aged up to 16. I am glad to know that he will welcome them. I share his view that they should only be used appropriately and after proper consultation and discussion with the local community.

Mr. Alan W. Williams: Part of the reluctance of police forces and local authorities to use ASBOs is the cost, as each one costs about £5,000 to process. I understand that the Home Office is about to announce that it will reimburse police and local authorities for the cost. Does my right hon. Friend have that information, too?

Mr. Michael: I have not heard that. My hon. Friend will have to get a reply from a Home Office Minister. I do not think that it is acceptable to say that cost is an excuse. We must ask how much police time, and that of local authority officials, will be saved if a problem that is causing many complaints and misery in a community is brought under control. ASBOs sound cheap at half the price, and they should be used. When I spoke to the chief constable and deputy chief constable of the South Wales police and his deputy, I was satisfied that they sought to learn the lessons from the existing ASBOs, to ram home the message to one or two thugs or villains who had created misery around them and to get on with the job.

I contest the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy's reference to on-the-spot penalties. We have seen the extent to which penalties for motoring offences are respected. We have seen the extent to which penalties for motoring offences are respected. The vast majority are paid, which avoids bureaucracy in the courts and saves paperwork and cost. Above all, it saves the time that police officers have to spend waiting in court for cases to be heard. Perhaps the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy should have declared an interest as a member of the legal profession, because on-the-spot fines produce savings in legal costs. People often admit that they were in the wrong and pay the penalty, although they still have the freedom to contest their case in court. That, surely, is an appropriate balance—or does the hon. Gentleman seek to defend the legal profession, which makes a great deal of money from such cases?

Mr. Llwyd: Only a tiny percentage of people challenge speeding fines, and policemen do not routinely have to wait in traffic courts. Indeed, they are not often to be seen there; I took a traffic court about two years ago, so I know. A distinction needs to be drawn between drunken loutish behaviour and speeding.

Mr. Michael: I first sat in a police court dealing with motoring offences nearly 30 years ago, and many police then sat waiting in court.

Mr. Llwyd: Times have changed.

Mr. Michael: That is my point. Those police officers are now out on the streets instead of waiting in court. That represents a net increase in the number of police officers, although it is not properly accounted for. On-the-spot fines will make a similar contribution. The police will not have to sit waiting in court whenever they arrest people for rowdy behaviour if they can impose on-the-spot fines. Those who are fined will probably admit to being out of order and pay up—and may even think about not behaving like that again. There will be a net gain in people's behaviour, and the police will not have to waste time in court.

I am conscious that other hon. Members want to speak, but I want to make two quick points. We want to cut crime, and we have proved that it can be done. The Government have a proud record, which has already been acknowledged. The figures prove it. The statistics show a 4.9 per cent. cut in recorded crime in Dyfed-Powys, a 7.2 per cent. cut in Gwent and a 16.9 per cent. cut in south Wales, the biggest cut in England and Wales. The figures show a slight increase in north Wales, but the figures for the three years from 1997 show Dyfed-Powys down by 11 per cent. Gwent down by 3.1 per cent., north Wales down by 9.1 per cent. and south Wales down by a massive 24.5 per cent. Those are successive year-on-year decreases, not blips. We are moving forward in a sustainable way. It is important that those decreases continue year after year. The Government were right to set ambitious targets.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy was generous enough to recognise that violent crime, too, can be cut. During in the past few years, we have seen a worrying increase in violent crime. I pay tribute to the work that has been done in that respect in Cardiff, and I am pleased that academic scrutiny is being applied to the realities of that work by Professor Mike Maguire and Professor Rob Morgan. The work that was undertaken involved Professor Jon Shepherd, who has analysed what is going on in the accident and emergency units. He found that a number of offences were not being recorded or reported. The realities of violent crime are being tackled in Cardiff, not only those cases that are reported to the police.

Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the work being done by Professor Shepherd at the University Hospital of Wales in my constituency, with the help of the crime prevention group, has contributed to the huge rise in the number of reported incidents in the Cardiff area? I believe that it is about 50 per cent.

Mr. Michael: Yes, I do. The reason is the existence of a strong partnership. The work was done by a medic, who recognised that crime is something to do with the health service. That needs to be recognised in every part of Wales, and it has not happened yet.

Another significant contribution was the work done by the local authority, led by councillor Gordon Houlston, its deputy leader and the deputy lord mayor, and the Safer Cardiff team led by Barbara Natesagara. Now money from the Home Office is being made available to accelerate the process and enable more to be learned. The relevant team, led by Inspector Tony Rees, is concentrating specifically on violent crime. Lessons have been learned and reductions have been achieved, but instead of declaring the work complete, the Home Office is supporting local partnership initiatives and advocating further efforts to reduce crime.

I am pleased that the Home Office has sent the Cardiff violence prevention group's leaflet to every accident and emergency consultant and to jaw and face consultants throughout the country, challenging them to act accordingly. Different approaches from those used in Cardiff may be needed elsewhere, such as in Ysbyty Gwynedd or Carmarthenshire hospitals, to suit local requirements. The important factor is that the problem should be jointly recognised and that there should be willingness to get on with the job, as has been shown to be possible with the right will, partnership and co-operation.

The health service needs particularly to take note of the fight against drugs. I should be very surprised if the new analysis of crime and disorder that is being undertaken for the new strategy in April 2002 did not produce recognition of a drugs problem in most areas. One problem is that when people are identified as involved with or misusing drugs, treatment is often not available to enable them to withdraw from that activity. There is a need for health authorities in Wales, while we still have them, and the health service as a whole, to recognise their responsibility to help reduce such activity. In the long term that should help to reduce treatment costs, and in the short term it would help to reduce crime and disorder.

In the spirit of partnership, I hope that, looking forward to their strategies for next year, local authorities will, as part of their contribution, examine the extension of entitlement. Exciting proposals have come from the National Assembly for establishing a community-based youth service approach. That means that, in contrast to the system in England, about which I have grave reservations, the organisation will be targeted at partnership between the local authority and voluntary organisations in the local authority area—exactly where crime is being tackled. That will enable a proper exercise to be carried out. The youth offending teams will also cover the same areas, making it possible for those concerned to work together on the essential task of nipping the initial involvement of young offenders in the bud, before they ruin their own lives and the life of the community. That must be one of our most important targets. I want to celebrate the fact that we are now closer to that target in south Wales than anywhere in the country.

At the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary I went with my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General to meet judges, police and those involved in the court system to find out about the work being undertaken towards the target of halving the time taken to bring young offenders to court. We inherited the scandalous figure of an average of 142 days. Even 71 days is still a long time in the life of a young person, but it is more manageable. I commend the way in which the courts in south Wales are approaching that target.

When I visited the magistrates courts in Cardiff last month I was excited—that is the only word I can use—by what I saw. I served as a magistrate in the juvenile courts before I entered Parliament and everyone felt that we were pushing a big stone uphill all the time. On my visit last month I witnessed a sense of partnership and movement. Magistrates feel that they can do something because cases come before them early enough. Prosecutors working for the Crown Prosecution Service feel that they are going to court with the information and authority to deal properly with their cases. Members of the youth offending teams feel that, with the final warning and the speeding up of the system, they can work with young offenders who have been convicted and have the chance to make a difference before it is too late. That positive feeling should be celebrated.

Cutting crime and creating safer communities takes time. It does not happen overnight. In the past three years, however, we have taken major steps forward. Our area is responding better than many parts of the country, although every part of the country will have to meet the target. We are on the way. In the coming 12 months, we will have another chance to audit crime in our area, consult the local community and ensure that local authorities and the police fulfil their joint responsibility in the plan for action and the coming three-year programme. As Members of Parliament, we have the chance to play our part in working with all those organisations to ensure that our communities are made safer.

12.25 pm

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 13 February 2001