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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): The provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 relating to evidence of bad character will be enforced only once sufficient training and guidance have been provided and the necessary rules of court have been made. At this stage, no final decision has been made about the precise timing.
Liz Blackman: I welcome those powers, which I believe properly balance the rights of victims with the safeguarding of the accused. I believe that they will make a significant difference in my constituency by bringing more guilty people to justice. They will, however, make no difference at all until the provisions are implemented. May I urge my hon. Friend to make that a top priority?
Paul Goggins: I thank my hon. Friend for her welcome and for her remarks about the improved balance that the provisions will bring to the criminal justice system. Obviously, however, given the most radical shake-up in the criminal justice system for a generation and given the number of provisions, it will take time to build the necessary capacity and to ensure that the relevant training is undertaken. That will be done as quickly as is practicable, because we all want the reforms to operate as soon as possible.
4. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What publicly funded alarm schemes he and his ministerial colleagues have assessed in terms of their ability to deter would-be distraction burglars; and if he will make a statement. 
The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears): The Home Office established a distraction burglary taskforce in 2000, with funding of £1 million, to provide advice and guidance on tackling such crime. Another £1 million was provided for three projects to tackle distraction burglary. Alarms can play an important role in helping older people to live independent and safer lives in their own homes, but the Home Office does not assess individual systems.
David Taylor : I thank the Minister for visiting Coalville last month to review the work of PRIDE, the protection and reassurance initiative to defend the elderly. Under that initiative, nearly 2,000 remote-control alarms, very visible and very audible, have been fixed to the outside of homes occupied by vulnerable people. What was the Minister's assessment of the scheme? How can we secure sustained funding, and how can we roll the scheme out to other areas in the light of its success in driving revictimisation rates down to an incredibly low 2 per cent.?
Ms Blears: I was delighted to be able to visit local people in Coalville, and to have the honour of presenting Mr. and Mrs. Wickwar with their brand new PRIDE alarm. I was also delighted to meet Mrs. Bird, who was already the proud owner of an alarm. She told me, "I have never had to use the alarm, but I feel so much safer now."
My hon. Friend is right. The alarms act as a deterrent and provide the crucial reassurance sought by elderly people in particular. I am pleased to say that we are investing £72 million in the building safer communities fund at local level to establish crime and disorder reduction partnerships to fund schemes such as that and many others. I urge them to fund all schemes that can make people, especially older people, feel safer in their homes.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Does the Minister not agree that tough deterrents work, particularly in the case of professional career criminals such as burglars? Will she urge the Government to find a reverse gear and ensure that burglars go to jail?
Ms Blears: The hon. Gentleman will, I think, accept that it is vital for us, as well as being tough on crime, to be tough on the causes of crime. It is this Government who, as well as imposing stiff sentences for burglary, have reduced its incidence by 39 per cent. since coming to office. I bet his constituents, like mine, would far rather not be burgled in the first place, and it is this Government who have been able to drive burglary down. There have been some tough sentences, but there has been crime reduction as well. This Government operate on all fronts.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint): There were 9,300 arrests for drug offences, including possession and supply, in the north-east. In addition, 47,800 arrests were made for property crime offences, such as robbery, burglary, theft and handling. Home Office research has found that drug-using arrestees commit much higher volumes of property crime than those who do not take drugs.
Mr. Hepburn : We were told that one reason why we needed to invade Afghanistan was to stop the flow of heroin to this country, but there is as much heroin on the streets of the north-east as there has ever been, and 95 per cent. of it comes from Afghanistan. What are we going to do to tackle the drug-related crime that seems to be getting out of hand in this country?
Caroline Flint: Drug-related crime is a serious matter, and I should like to pay tribute to police forces and others in the north-east, whose recent significant results have led to some major arrests and court convictions. However, my hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of the source, and that is why we have a 10-year strategy to tackle opium coming from Afghanistan. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell), will hold a conference on the issue on 2 February in Kabul. We will also be working with all agencies to try to deal with the source of supply. However, I should point out that it is far better for people to deal with a state that wants to work together than with one that does not.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath) (Con): Does not the Minister recognise that one real problemin the north-east and throughout the rest of the countryis a lack of the intensive rehabilitation places that get people off the conveyor belt to crime by ensuring that they are taken away from drugs? Given that not only many parts of the media but some of her colleagues, such as the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), have waged campaigns on that issue, will the Government finally recognise that they are wrong and provide the number of intensive rehabilitation places for hard drug users that we Conservatives have called for?
Caroline Flint: The number of places available is increasing. The hon. Gentleman is right to point to treatment, and intensive rehabilitation places are important, but so is care in the community. I am pleased to say that, in addition to Middlesbrough, four further areas in the north-east will benefit from our criminal justice interventions programme. That programme will see people through from the point of arrest and charge to whatever may happen next, whether it be custodial sentence or community sentence, to ensure that they get treatment that lasts.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): The Government's annual grant to Victim Support has more than doubled in recent yearsfrom £11.7 million in 199697 to £30 million in 200304. That is helping to support almost 1.5 million victims of crime, and more than 300,000 witnesses of crime, each year.
Mr. Blizzard : Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the voluntary victim support groups throughout the country that provide such valuable services to victims of crime? I very much welcome the Government's doubling of funding for Victim Support, but there is concern about how much of that money is getting through to local victim support groups at the front line; indeed, my local group says that it has seen none of that extra money. Will my hon. Friend look into that matter to ensure that as much of the new money as possible reaches the local groups that provide the support that victims need?
Paul Goggins: I gladly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the 12,000 volunteers, including those in his constituency, who contribute at the sharp end to the work of Victim Support. If there are issues in his area, I should be very happy to look into them, because we want to ensure that the money goes to those who work at the sharp end. Indeed, we are looking to devolving funding down to local level, so that what Victim Support provides more neatly fits with the requirements of each area.
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): Does the Minister agree that face-to-face contact with a police officer is often very important to victims, so that they can feel that the crime of which they are a victim is being taken seriously? Some police officers have told me that, in their view, sending a police officer round when someone's car has been stolen, for example, is a waste of police time. What does the Minister think of that view?
Paul Goggins: It is essential that the police respond to all incidents of crime, but it is obvious that they need to prioritise in terms of how quickly they respond to particular incidents. It is vital that the police work in partnership with agencies such as Victim Support, so that both can work together to provide not only the justice that people want, but the support that victims of crime need.
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): Will the Under-Secretary congratulate Members of all parties in this House who participated in the Victim Support day a couple of weeks ago, meeting volunteers to support the work that they do? Will he ensure that the funding for Victim Support is devolved to the relevant areas locally, as he suggested in a previous answer, and that the level of funding nationally is maintained at least in line with inflation? Will he ensure that the witness
Paul Goggins: I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the 200 Members from both sides of the House who showed an interest in the open days that were run by Victim Support. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary attended an event in his constituency and I attended events in Manchester and Trafford.
It is vital that the levels of funding allocated relate to the level of work that each local Victim Support project faces, and we must do our best to make sure that they have the resources they require. The witness support service that my hon. Friend mentioned is very important and we will find ways of trying to support its work as best we can.