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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Wills): In the most recently published recorded crime figures, in the 12 months to March 2001, crime in Devon and Cornwall fell by 7 per cent.
Linda Gilroy: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and welcome him to his new position. If he is not already aware of the role that crime and disorder partnerships have played in the drop in crime figures, I recommend that he investigates them. Does he share my concern that the advent of crack cocaine to the streets of Plymouth in the past year threatens to reverse all that good work? Will he pay early attention to the bid for a pilot project for a seamless health-based approach to tackling drug crime and give us his opinion sooner rather than later?
Mr. Wills: I thank my hon. Friend for her kind words of welcome. Crack cocaine is a problem in Plymouth and we share her concerns. We guaranteed funding of nearly £500,000 from the communities against drugs programme in 2002-03 to tackle drug-related crime. As she is aware, the Devon and Cornwall constabulary has initiated Operation Ovidian in response to the emerging crack cocaine problem in Plymouth and throughout the area covered by the force.
We are aware of the funding bids that have been submitted to the criminal justice reserve fund and the recovered assets fund. The Under-Secretary who has responsibility for drugs policy, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), stated in his letter to Superintendent Isaac that Home Office officials have made an initial assessment of the bid, but
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): Given the undoubted link between drugs and crime and the vital need for those who feed their heroin habit by committing crime to have access to treatment as soon as they wish, what does the Minister propose to do about the waiting time for access to detox and rehabilitation treatment in Plymouth, which is currently 65 weeks?
Mr. Wills: The hon. Gentleman makes some valid points. Until 15 months ago, no treatment was possible, but we now have a national treatment agency and waiting times are falling. He is right to say that we must take action to tackle the problem, and that is what we are doing. We must deal with the problem across the range and choke off the supply, which is what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is doing. He is liaising with the Jamaican authorities to make sure that we tackle the problem of crack cocaine.
The hon. Gentleman is right about the need to treat addicts, which we are doing. We must also educate our young people about these matters, which is why we have drugs education programmes in schools. Some 93 per cent. of secondary schools now have such programmes in place.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): We are undertaking an end-to-end review of the criminal justice process, including the development of more training, more police officers, the introduction of community support and street warden provision to back that up. We have provided extra resources this year for police technology and investment in closed circuit television. Other measures taken include the premium Crown Prosecution Service, the establishment of 67 specialist street crime courts, the availability of the video ID system referred to earlier, the extension of electronic tagging and the use of intensive supervision, including bail conditions. In addition, we have introduced the Mobile Telephones(Re-Programming) Bill. All these measures are enabling us to bring down the street crime figures, which worried everyone earlier this year.
Mr. Griffiths: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. However, I am sure that he is aware that old people in particular still fear going to their local shopping centres, especially at night, because of the youths who wander about aimlessly and sometimes threaten them. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that even more CCTV cameras are made available? The residents of the Wildmill estate in Bridgend greatly appreciate that the number of officers patrolling the streets has doubled, but they would still like to see CCTV cameras in the shopping precincts.
The use of CCTV has proved extremely popular against the predictions that were made when the programme started. There is no doubt that the quality and use of CCTV are crucial, so that the reassurance that it provides can in turn ensure a conviction when people are captured on the video screen. The combination of the use of CCTV and video ID parades, the emphasis that we are placing on pressing down on antisocial behaviour by giving it a focus at national policy level, and the encouragement that we have been giving the police to respond positively to any kind of intervention at that level will provide people, young or old, with the reassurance that they need. It is a fact of life that although elderly people are the least likely to be attacked in the street, they are the most likely to fear such an attack.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I am sure that the Home Secretary agrees that to reduce crime, we need to deal with the causes of crime, as well as with the criminals. After the highly successful past few days in which the country has seen success in the cricket test against Sri Lanka, in the world heavyweight title match in the United States, and against Argentina on Friday, does the Home Secretary accept that bringing youngsters from primary school age upwards into sportnot just as participants, but as competitorsis as likely as any other activity to prevent them from getting into crime? Can the Home Office work with the Departments for Education and Skills and for Culture, Media and Sport to ensure that we give young people, from the age of five to 25, constructive alternatives to crime so that they can do positive things instead of being told only what they cannot do, which too often appears to be the Government's message?
Mr. Blunkett: "All Our Futures", the work of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the splash schemes that we are introducing and the social cohesion programme for the summer are all very valuable, but I accept what the hon. Gentleman says: a win against Nigeria on Wednesday would do wonders for street crime, social cohesion and youth offending.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): I welcome the measures that the Government have already introduced to reduce street crime, but I feel sure that my right hon. Friend would agree with many of my constituents who welcome technological advances but put their faith, as I do, in the deterrent power of a uniform. I sincerely hope that both he and the police will accept that bobbies on the beat can do a great deal to reduce crime and, more importantly, the fear of crime.
Mr. Blunkett: We are all very pleased to see my hon. Friend back in the Chamber and we wish her well. I agree with her entirely: 4,500 extra uniformed police on our streets over the past two years, more than 1,100 of them in London, have been very welcome. That visible presence, combined with intelligent and community-based policing, will make the difference.
Mr. Blunkett: It is important to get the balance right between the various hot spots and difficulties at any one time, but the hon. Gentleman will realise that it is an operational decision, for the Commissioner in the case of the Metropolitan police, and for chief constables elsewhere. I respect that fact and know that they carry responsibility as well as power, and I answer the questions at the Dispatch Box every month. The honest truth is that if we can manage to get people focused where the greatest danger is we will not only provide reassurance but ensure that the police get the respect and support that they need, in the end, in order to drive down crime.
Andy Burnham (Leigh): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Greater Manchester police and Wigan council on last week's successful introduction of a drinking ban in Leigh town centre, which I believe will reduce street crime in Leigh? Is he aware of the belief of that force and others that, under the wording of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, they are unable to seize unopened bottles and cans from under-age drinkers? Will he consider amending the wording to enable the police to bear down effectively on under-age drinking and youth crime?
Mr. Blunkett: I do indeed congratulate Greater Manchester police on that initiative, and I hope that it works well over the summer, not least in the few weeks ahead during the World cup. There is a real issue here, and we have asked the police to provide us with chapter and verse on the extent of the problem with unopened alcohol containers. If there is a problem, we will be prepared to include measures to put it right in the sentencing and criminal justice Bill for next Session. We all want to ensureI am sure that this goes across political partiesthat we reverse as quickly as possible, at the request of those on the ground, any anomalies that have been built in.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): I pay tribute to the Metropolitan police for the way in which they rose to the immense challenge of maintaining the security of the streets of central London during the jubilee celebrations.
The Home Secretary's desire to reduce street crime will be shared by everyone in the House and outside, but does not he understand that there is widespread concern in the police that the powers that he is seeking to be able to dictate precisely the contents of any action plan for improvement will mean that Ministers in Whitehall will be usurping the local knowledge of chief constables in their task of reducing street crime? The objective may be shared by everyone, but the method of achieving it should be the responsibility of chief constables and police authorities, and not interfered with by any Minister of any political party in government. There is wide concern in the police force and police authorities that he is seeking to reintroduce centralising powers.
On the hon. Gentleman's second point, there would be great, justified fears if his statements this afternoon were correct. We are asking police chiefs to draw up action planswe make no apology for that, nor for the fact that we shall be able to comment on the plans. We make no apology for asking the police to consider readjusting their plans in the context of the overall national planfor instance, if they are giving only low-level attention to antisocial behaviour, which most Members regard as a scourge that we want to be tackled.
We are not seeking powers to dictate the action plans, to overturn them or in any way to take hold of operational policing. The sooner we debate what we really disagree on, the more we shall be respected by the public.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): My police service experiences real difficulties in ensuring that we get enough police officers on the streets, because it trains everybody else's police officers. Thames Valley has provided officers to every other force in the United Kingdom. Will my right hon. Friend think about a system of transfer fees for police officers, so that police authorities that train young officers have the resources to train new officers, because everyone else has nicked the ones that we have trained?
Mr. Blunkett: I have a lot of sympathy with my hon. Friend. The level of crime and the difficulties experienced in Slough and some other parts of Thames Valley cause problems and the force has been vulnerable as a result of officers moving out of the area owing to the provision for recruitment in the Metropolitan police area. However, I am pleased to say that, as part of the provision of extra resources, Thames Valley will receive an extra £1.5 million this year. Taken with the flexibility in the new police negotiating powers, such as the use of priority payments, Thames Valley will be able to build on its success and to hold on to the trained police officers who are so crucial in my hon. Friend's area.