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The Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs (Mr. John Denham): There are currently no plans to publish performance data specifically for Welsh police authorities. However, recorded crime statistics, to be released later this month, will be published in families of comparable basic command units and crime and disorder reduction partnerships. That will allow comparison of local police performance with similar areas elsewhere in England and Wales.
Mr. Thomas: I hope that such proposals do not emerge and that there are no league tables for police performance in Wales. Will the Minister say a little more about the performance indicators that he mentioned? How can they measure non-numerative advances in policing? I think especially of progress in restorative justice and in community policing, such as today's decision not to prosecute people for the possession of cannabis in parts of London, and the steps being taken in decision-led policing, which is increasingly being used in a sophisticated approach to solving crime. How can any performance measures take account of those? Does the Minister have anything to say about the use of performance measures to enhance the retention of police officers?
Mr. Denham: I agree that modern policing requires the effective use of resources, which must be devoted to the right targets to ensure that we are tackling and reducing crime. It is important that performance indicators, which are used, for example, in best value, are capableof capturing a range of different measures of the effectiveness of the police and of reinforcing best practice.
In the near future, we will consult the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities on the indicators to be used in the coming year. The public, who pay for the police service, have a right to a range of useful information about the
Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Does my right hon. Friend think that it was a sensible use of police time for a Welsh police authority, two years ago, to have prosecuted and subsequently jailed two men for using cannabis, although they were suffering from severe illnesses? That drug is now being decriminalised in parts of London. Is it right that the police are doing the job that we politicians have dodged? Is it sensible to have creeping decriminalisation by postcode? Should we not stop wasting the time of the police, the jails and the courts in prosecuting people for using a drug that is far less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco?
Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend is wrong about the position in London. In Brixton, the divisional commander has made a decision about the use of police resources so that he can prioritise those crimes that do most damage to the community, particularly the peddling of hard drugs. It is not the case that cannabis has been decriminalised or the law changed. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has expressed his interest in the experiment in Brixton and his belief that resources need to be targeted at hard drugs. My hon. Friend knows well that there is a research programme dealing with the potential medicinal use of cannabis or its extracts that is akin to the research for any prescribable drug. We all await the results of those tests.
Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point): Does the Minister agree that we need league tables for English and Welsh police authorities if we are to spread best practice, as we must? Will he confirm, however, that he cares about the independence of all police authorities?
Mr. Denham: Nothing that has been said by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or any other Minister in this Government has suggested that we should remove the operational autonomy of chief constables. It is quite right that we should publish information showing how well the police service is performing and, through the new standards unit, be able to identify best practice and ensure that it is spread as quickly and effectively as possible across police forces throughout England and Wales.
Up to 31 March this year, 214 antisocial behaviour orders had been issued across England and Wales. Thirty-three of the 43 police authority areas have been responsible for their issue. I hope very much that there will be an acceleration in that programme.
Mr. Blunkett: Yes, I do. I am sorry that it looks as though only one antisocial behaviour order has so far been issued in my hon. Friend's area. I hope that, by examining any suggestions for slimming down the procedures and speeding up the process, we shall be able to persuade local authorities and the police to take them up. Of course, they are civil ordersand were opposed for that reasonas opposed to criminal orders, which are available as part of broader community sentencing.
I read in The Times this morning an article that suggested that I was about to abandon antisocial behaviour orders. The article was full of all sorts of other inaccuracies. I want to make it clear that, far from abandoning them, I want to strengthen them and spread them more widely.
Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking): Three years ago, when considering the proposals in Committee, I warned the Government that antisocial behaviour orders would be unworkable and over-bureaucratic. Ministers responded that more than 5,000 would probably be made every year. Is not the fact that only just over 200 have been made evidence that this flagship policy has been an utter failure and flop? What will the Government do to stop these orders? They are an absolute waste of time.
Mr. Blunkett: So, we have someone who warned before the orders were introduced that they would be a failure, and who now thinks that, because the procedures adopted are not in line with what he believes, the orders are a failureeven though more than 200 have been issued and only 10 per cent. have failed to achieve their goal, which is a tremendous record compared with other aspects of the application of the law. Other Conservative Members want us to slim down the procedure so that the orders might be used more effectively. I wonder which faction the hon. Gentleman will be backing and which of the candidates for the leadership are for or against antisocial behaviour orders. On the Government Benches, we are wholeheartedly in favour of using them to protect people in the neighbourhoods and on the estates that are bedevilled by crime.
Ross Cranston (Dudley, North): May I assure myright hon. Friend that antisocial behaviour orders are workingdespite what is said from the Opposition Benches? In Dudley, some eight have been issued already and another seven are in the pipeline. They are having a ripple effect in the community. However, there are some technical problems. One is non-appearance by defendants. Cases can of course be proved in absence, but there is a reluctance among the authorities to do so because that means releasing to defendants the details of complainants.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Like the constituents of a number of Members, some of my constituentssome elderly and others young familiesare having their lives made a misery by the activities of neighbouring households. The right hon. Gentleman has, effectively, challenged my right hon. Friends and I on what we would do to deal with such people. The way is to make it easier to have them evicted. The one prospect that really puts fear into those people is that of eviction. No one should be allowed to use security of tenure as an excuse to enable them to continue to terrorise their neighbours.
Mr. Blunkett: One thing that is undeniable is that a considerably greater number of people whose lives are bedevilled by antisocial behaviour by their neighbours come to Labour Members' surgeriesincluding minethan come to most Opposition Members' surgeries. That is because the incidence of such crime and nuisance tends to lie in areas of greatest disadvantage, and that is why we are totally committed to doing something about it.I shall co-ordinate plans with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to take whatever steps are necessarywhether using social housing or some other meansto ensure that we get such measures in place. However, simply evicting people, without a court order, would be denounced overnight by the Oppositionand quite rightly, too.