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Dangerousness Orders

7. Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): If he will make a statement on progress towards establishing dangerousness orders. [47066]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Beverley Hughes): We have acted already and are continuing to act to address the challenge to public safety posed by dangerous people. We have introduced a raft of measures, including sex offender orders, which we will further strengthen.

We also plan to introduce new measures to deal more effectively with the dangers posed by people with a severe personality disorder.

Mr. Soley: Does my hon. Friend accept that this is a difficult but profoundly important subject to tackle, and that it involves a relatively small number of violent offenders who can wreck people's lives and kill? Does she accept that we need to introduce some legislation to deal with people who are acknowledged to pose a high risk to others? At times, they ask to be locked up to be prevented from doing what they fear they will do, as happened in at least one case a few years ago. Although this is a difficult matter, I ask my hon. Friend not to give up on it.

Beverley Hughes: I know that my hon. Friend has great interest and expertise in this matter, which he rightly describes as important. We all know of several cases that have exposed the gaps in legislation and in assessment and treatment, especially of those who are dangerous and have personality disorders. We are determined to close the gap; we have published proposals and will introduce legislation as soon as possible. In the meantime, we are developing four important pilot projects in two high-security prisons and two special hospitals. Development of assessment and treatment is also important.

We are also considering the way in which new sentences, including new orders, can help us better to ensure that a dangerous person, whether suffering from a personality disorder or not, will remain in custody or under supervision while continuing to present risk. Risk assessment and management is the key to that.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Does the Minister accept that the need for dangerousness orders would be vastly reduced if the number of police was greatly increased? Often only two police officers patrol the whole rural area of Harborough district on Fridays and Saturdays. In the Oadby and Wigston borough council area, there are always far too few police officers to carry out necessary police work. It is annoying for the police to be continually harassed by Members of Parliament and members of the public about their inability to carry out their work. Why do not the Government stop talking and get on and do something?

Beverley Hughes: The hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely wrong, and he has managed to divert a question

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on another very important but different topic back to the subject of policing. The most important factor in protecting the public from dangerous offenders is not the number of police officers per se; it is effective and strong partnership between the police, the probation service, the health service and other agencies at local level. It is also crucial to have in place the measures to contain, treat, observe and survey those offenders. Since 1997 there has been a sea change in the way in which agencies work together, and we have introduced measures such as sex offenders orders to reduce the risk to the minimum level possible. We need to go further, but that is not a matter of having more police; it is a matter of better inter-agency working.

Drug Misuse

9. Linda Perham (Ilford, North): What assessment he has made of the links between drugs misuse and crime; and what steps are being taken to tackle the problem. [47068]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): Research shows a strong connection between the misuse of heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine and theft and other acquisitive crime, and a consequent high level of local concern about supply and other drug-related activity. Measures to tackle that include the £220 million communities against drugs programme, a range of interventions in the criminal justice system to identify drug misusing offenders and get them into appropriate treatment, and our ongoing efforts to disrupt the supply of those drugs.

Linda Perham: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. My local court, Redbridge magistrates court, which is one of the most effective and efficient in the country, is concerned about the suitability of drug treatment and testing orders for less serious offenders, including young and first-time offenders. Are there any sentencing measures that my hon. Friend can introduce to cope with those offenders?

Mr. Ainsworth: We recognise and accept that drug treatment and testing orders are not suitable in every circumstance, and that is why we introduced drug abstinence orders and requirements. With regard to young people, it is our view that magistrates' ability to make various attachments to supervisory orders is sufficiently comprehensive. Youth offending teams have the funding to ensure that all young offenders are assessed for drug misuse, so they are able to access appropriate treatment where it is available and as outlined by the drug action teams. However, if specific concerns are being raised by my hon. Friend's local magistrates, we should of course be prepared to listen to those. I should be more than happy to receive further representations from her about the gap in provision perceived by magistrates in her constituency.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Would I be correct in inferring from the Minister's initial reply that

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the Government are moving towards the decriminalisation of so-called soft drugs? If that is the case, will the Minister bear it in mind that many people have grave misgivings about such a move?

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman should not take any such inference from my reply. I was asked what assessment we had made of the clear link between drug misuse and acquisitive crime. All our research shows the clearest link between the three substances that I mentioned—heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine—and such crime.

That does not mean that other drugs are not harmful—they are. It continues to be the Government's intention that those drugs should remain illegal, and that the message that all drugs are harmful should continue to go out. However, if we are to get young people to listen to us, we have to try to differentiate the message so that we can say to them that certain substances are seriously dangerous both to themselves as individuals and to the communities in which they live. Our effort has to be directed towards having the maximum effect on the use of class A drugs.

Criminal Records Bureau

11. Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton): If he will make a statement on the new Criminal Records Bureau; and what plans he has to give employers access to criminal records. [47071]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): The Criminal Records Bureau will provide employers and organisations with improved access to criminal records and other information, through applications initiated by individuals. Its primary purpose is to help employers and voluntary organisations make safer recruiting decisions, especially for those working with children or vulnerable adults. The bureau first began processing applications for the two higher levels of disclosures on 11 March.

Jim Dobbin: I thank the Minister for that reply. I agree that care in recruitment procedures is absolutely essential to protect children, young people and other vulnerable groups from dangerous people. Can my hon. Friend assure me and the House that job applicants and voluntary workers will have a fair deal through these procedures, and that at least their private lives will be protected?

Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend is right that we are dealing with sensitive issues—the criminal records of individuals—and, to ensure that that information is used fairly and that the individual's rights to privacy are not prejudiced, no disclosure can be issued without the consent of the individual applicant, and the information is always provided to the individual applicant. If they are unhappy about any aspects of it, they have the opportunity to challenge it before it is made known to anyone else, including their employer.

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Point of Order

3.31 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As Home Office Ministers are still in the Chamber, may I ask whether you have received any indication from them that they intend to make a statement about the impending visit to this country of Henry Kissinger, and requests that have been made in courts in Spain for him to be investigated by the Metropolitan police for abuses of human rights in Chile and other countries in south America during the 1970s, when Operation Condor killed large numbers of people? It is a matter of international human rights, and, as Henry Kissinger will be in this country, it would seem a useful opportunity to ask him questions, as he is a person in a good position to know a lot of answers.

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