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20 Nov 2002 : Column 719—continued

8.19 pm

John Mann (Bassetlaw): I was described earlier by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) as living in a fool's paradise. I remind the House that I had asked him to provide evidence for his claim that what was needed for drugs treatment in this country was residential rehabilitation, because that was what worked. He cited the Netherlands as his evidence base. The Council of Ministers meets next Thursday and Friday, and I believe that the Home Secretary will be present. It will receive a paper from the European Union drugs co-ordination committee, in which AWUD—the co-ordinating group of Ministers in the Dutch Parliament—states that the policy in the Netherlands in recent years has been to move towards outreach work. Outreach work is a separate form of treatment from residential care—the two are competing variations.

I make that point because, in my few minutes, I shall concentrate on the issue of drugs and its relationship to crime. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and a little knowledge on the part of a senior politician is an even more dangerous thing. The same right hon. Gentleman said at his party conference that we should follow the example of Sweden, and that that would involve a tenfold increase in drugs treatment in this country. The Council of Ministers will also, of course, receive evidence from the Swedish drugs co-ordination Minister. Last year in Sweden, 9,887 people were undergoing drugs and alcohol treatment. The estimate of a tenfold increase in this country would suggest that approximately 989 people were currently receiving drugs treatment in this country, and that is not so. To suggest as the core part of an answer to a major problem remedies based on ignorance rather than fact is not appropriate in terms of good governance and decision making in this House. I trust that the House will treat such a lack of evidence with the contempt that it deserves.

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On a good piece of news, I held a drugs inquiry recently, and my panel of six included a Church representative, the chaplain of Bassetlaw hospital, the Reverend Roy Bennett. Unfortunately—or fortunately—Roy has retired, and has moved from Bassetlaw in the last two weeks. He now resides in the constituency of West Dorset. He will therefore be available to the right hon. Gentleman to provide real expertise in terms of informing the debate and the policy-making of his party.

The issue of drugs is a major one.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Mann: No, I want to develop my point in the time remaining.

The evidence received in my inquiry showed that one in three households in the majority of my constituency were directly affected by drugs—the vast majority by drugs-related crime. When we looked at mining villages—or former mining villages—we found that the concentration was significantly higher. A majority of those households were directly affected, and often dually affected: a member of the extended family would be a drug user, while the house would have been burgled. As a user becomes drug-dependent—in virtually all cases in my constituency the drug is heroin, as appears to be the case in other former mining constituencies, rather than cocaine—they steal from their own family. As that dependency builds up, they progress to stealing from shops and breaking into houses, not for large goods but for goods that they can resell for small amounts of money. The item stolen most often from stores in my constituency is razor blades—they are cheap, easy to pocket, easy to sell on, and there is a big demand for them.

The police suggested that two thirds of all crime was committed by drug addicts. What that fails to quantify, however, is the vast majority of crimes that are not recorded, such as shoplifting. Therefore, that is a severe underestimate of the levels of crime taking place. The police in Nottinghamshire estimate a criminal income of #15,000 per drug addict per year. If we remember that that represents the resale value of stolen goods, that equates to #20 million of goods stolen from my constituency every year to feed drug addiction, which is the cause of the vast majority of crime. I do not pretend or claim to speak for any other constituency in any other area, but, in my constituency, that is the key issue in relation to crime. Of the 150 case studies of heroin addicts that I have provided—I shall provide the others if anyone wishes to see the 300 pages of detailed evidence—only one of them was not involved in crime. One young female drug addict told me that, for her, shoplifting is a way of life and a routine that is followed methodically.

In relation to the criminal justice system, the issue becomes more interesting. I shall not refer to our recommendations now, as the Home Office has received my report. I shall therefore concentrate on the biggest weakness, which is the National Treatment Agency. I have suggested that an Opposition-day debate could be allocated to the issue of the National Treatment Agency, as that would allow us to discuss such an

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important issue in great detail. The National Treatment Agency is a good initiative, but it is not working. In my constituency, nobody can evidence a single drug addict criminal—they constitute the vast majority of criminals—who has been treated. I have asked that question repeatedly, going back 10 years, since the pits were shut and as heroin has taken a hold in the mining villages in particular. The evidence base should be created so that we can quantify what the National Treatment Agency has been doing and it can be held accountable for a menu of treatment to be provided. The kinds of treatment that should be available are not available in my constituency. We demand action, whether from the Department of Health or the Home Office.

8.27 pm

Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), and I am sure that the whole House pays tribute to him for the work that he has done on drugs in his constituency.

A central purpose of the measures in the Queen's Speech is to rebalance the criminal justice system in favour of witnesses and the victim. I welcome that, as do other hon. Members. We must ask why that is necessary, however, at a time when the risk of being a victim of crime is lower than at any time in the past 20 years. In my constituency, burglaries are down by 20 per cent. in the past year alone, car theft down by 9 per cent., and overall recorded crimes down by 5 per cent. That is a tribute to Kent police and particularly to the area commander, Superintendent David Pryer, to extra investment in more officers and closed circuit television, and to the partnership between my local authority, the police and other agencies in pursuing the measures necessary to reduce crime. Although the chances of being a victim of crime are lower than they have been for many years, the consequences of being a victim are as devastating as they have always been. As the organisation, Victim's Voice—which has campaigned for many years for the rebalancing of the system—has pointed out, the consequences include the loss of one's job, financial hardship, physical and mental ill health, attempted and, tragically, sometimes successful suicide, alcoholism, divorce and the loss of one's home.

As if that were not enough, the criminal justice system can also humiliate victims and witnesses, depriving them of their dignity, especially in rape trials. In a recent Adjournment debate, I pointed out how the families struggling to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones in the Marchioness disaster found that struggle made worse by the treatment of the coroner who described them as

He described one mother who was still grieving as Xunhinged". That is why we need to shift the balance of the criminal justice system in favour of victims.

As other hon. Members have noted, there is a second reason why the fear of crime persists despite the fall in the recorded crime figures. It is the persistence of those forms of antisocial behaviour that blight and tarnish the lives of many of our constituents. One constituent phoned me at home on a Saturday night not so long ago.

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He was at the end of his tether over what he had seen over the past month outside his front window. He listed what had happened. The doctor's surgery window had been broken; the dental surgery window had been broken; and the chemist's window had been broken. Someone had a real grudge against the health service. A shop had been vandalised; a car had been surrounded by thugs who pulled the occupants from it and beat them up; two phones were regularly vandalised; trees were torn up; and rubbish bins were overturned.

I received a letter recently from Victim Support in Gravesham about the circumstances of a particular family. It said:

For the young people involved, that incident was a Xbit of a laugh". It was a way of asserting their authority over adults whom they knew very little about and with whose interests they were little concerned. However, their behaviour was a source of terror, fear and humiliation for the family. It must stop.

As I have said, in Gravesham, we have been working effectively in partnership with the police, local council and other agencies to pursue a number of antisocial behaviour orders, but there is recognition that the processes are often complex and too vulnerable to failure through technicalities. My community will certainly welcome the measures to make it easier to deal with loutish and antisocial behaviour, including the wider use of parenting orders and final warnings for young people. It will also welcome a number of other measures to curb alcohol-related crime and new powers to tackle graffiti, noise, litter and local environmental threats, including restricting the sale of spray paints.In my postbag, as in that of many other hon. Members, such quality of life issues are the most important to our communities.

The measures that we are discussing could have a significant effect on the level of social nuisance. Police in north Kent estimate that just 10 young offenders aged between 13 and 17 are responsible for 40 per cent. of crime in some areas. One young person had clocked up 76 arrests in just 18 months. Although it is true that a minority of young people are responsible for a large proportion of criminal and antisocial behaviour, we must also recognise that it is also true that a majority of young people are responsible for no criminal or antisocial behaviour at all. As my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley) pointed out, there is a real danger of demonising young people. We need to make sure that we re-engage those young people in the process of combating crime and antisocial behaviour.

In the time that I have left, I wish to point to two or three of the measures that are being pursued to tackle the root causes of such behaviour. First, I want to highlight disruptive behaviour in schools, which is the biggest challenge that faces us in education. However, it also offers the prospect of the biggest prize in dealing

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with crime and social disorder. If we can deal with the problem particularly in primary schools and in secondary schools that could pay a big premium as time goes by in preventing young people from moving on to a life of crime.

Secondly, I want to highlight the XMake Space" initiative promoted by the Kids Club Network. It is based on new research that shows that 70 per cent. of 11 to 16-year-olds believe that young people commit crime because there is not enough to do. The research also shows that almost half of parents do not know where their teenage children are after school. The initiative will provide a network of clubs that provide after-school initiatives for 11 to 16-year-olds. That will have a significant impact.

Finally, I want to mention the work of Gravesham Youth Forum. It engages young people and helps them to work with the local authority, other agencies and myself to tackle youth crime and disorder. Unless we involve young people in that process and ensure that they take responsibility too, we will not deal with the problems blighting our communities.

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