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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): Members of any Home Department police force may receive a housing allowance, dog handlers allowance, plain clothes allowance or motor allowance if the provisions of the Police Regulations 2003 are satisfied. In addition, officers in the Metropolitan police force receive London weighting of £1,881 and a London allowance of £1,011 if they were recruited before 1 September 1994, or £4,338 if they were recruited after that date and are not in receipt of housing allowance. Officers in Thames Valley police who were recruited after 1 September 1994 and who are not in receipt of a housing allowance receive a south-east allowance of £2,000.
Mr. Rendel : Given the difference in allowances that the Minister has just announced and given that house prices are often lower in other parts of the country than they are in west Berkshire, it is clear that a considerable number of police officers are recruited and trained by Thames Valley but then move to other police forces. What will the Minister do to ensure that central funds make up to Thames Valley police force the excess costs of recruiting and training a lot of police officers who then move elsewhere?
Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that because of the operation of the floor in the grants to police in the recent announcement, Thames Valley received more than it might otherwise have expected. Our injection of extra money into police forces such as Thames Valley is proving successful. Thames Valley police force covers both his constituency and mine, and it now has more police officers than at any other point in history. The chief constable is able to use special policing paymentsat present 1 per cent., and increasing to 2 per cent.to deal with the serious problem of retention of police officers in our area.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint): The Government's drug strategy concentrates on safeguarding communities as one of its four principal aims. Strong communities are at the heart of preventing crime and reducing antisocial behaviour, and are central to the Government's agenda for civil renewal. Drug action teams and crime and disorder reduction partnerships work on a local basis. They should support communities to identify needs and engage with them to find solutions.
Mr. Harris : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. As a member of the Committee that scrutinised the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 through 39 long sittings, I welcome the Government's commitment to confiscating drug assets and reinvesting the money in those communities, including my own, that have been most hard hit by the drugs trade. Will she reconsider the Government's targets for asset recovery? The website of the Assets Recovery Agency puts the value of the illegal drug trade in this country at £9 billion a year, but the Government's target for total criminal assets recovered by 200405 is only £60 million. Is that ambitious enough?
Caroline Flint: The powers are very new and, as my hon. Friend will be aware, the Assets Recovery Agency has been in place for less than a year. We are on track for this year's target of £45 million, with more than £37 million already confiscated. It is a challenging new area. We are establishing four regional asset recovery units in England and Wales and, in Scotland, the First Minister announced in November that more money would go to communities fighting the misery of crime and drugs. I understand that more details will be provided in the new year. We are trying to make this new policy work and I hope that the pot will grow, because we are trying to ensure that crime does not pay.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): The Minister will be aware of the importance of drugs education in reducing illegal drug use and, therefore, drug-related crime. Will she liaise with her colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills and look at some of the education material that masquerades as drug prevention, some of which is more like an instruction manual for how to inject, or avoid being caught out by one's parents. Will she try to filter out those unsuitable and inappropriate drug publications, so that young people in schools are not exposed to them?
Caroline Flint: Reducing the use of drugs by young people is one of the major parts of our strategy. I am in regular contact with colleagues in the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills, and I shall have a meeting shortly to discuss issues concerning young people at risk. We do consider the information that is issued. The FRANK campaign, which was launched this year, has been highly successful, both in terms of the number of people who have accessed information through the website or e-mail and in terms of the activities around the country that have been supported by schools. We have also launched Blueprint with the Department for Education and Skills and others, which will establish over several years what
John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Effective drugs treatment, especially for heroin, works both in prison and in the community. As the Home Office drastically underestimates the saving to the taxpayer of effective drugs treatment, will the Minister consider initiating new research so that we can find out what is working and, especially, the saving to the taxpayer from what is working?
Caroline Flint: We already know from research that every £1 spent on treatment saves the criminal justice system £3, so we should all pay attention to that figure. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that, to support treatment, money needs to be put in and that a record amount is going into such programmes. We constantly consider research; for example, we are not just waiting until the end of the criminal justice intervention programme but are looking at it as it develops. We can thus obtain a speedy response about what is working and passport it across, and understand what might not work in certain areas. Research has been carried out in prisons, but more could be done and we are trying to find better ways of assessing the impact of drug treatment in prison. What evidence there is, however, shows that drug treatment in prison reduces re-offending.
Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): The drug that causes the most damage to communities and that results in the most crime is, of course, alcohol. I am sure that the Minister will agree that we need to put a stop to the huge rise in binge drinking by normally law-abiding teenagers, which causes so much damage to their health and to their communities and takes up an enormous amount of police time. Would not one remedy be for the Government to ask the courts to be much more robust and much tougher when considering the grant or renewal of licences to the sorts of clubs and pubs that all too often, by their aggressive marketing policies, appear to encourage the behaviour that we all want to control?
Caroline Flint: The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that I have spoken in other forums about the link between alcohol and drugs. If one meets a drug user who says "I'm off the crack, but I'm still an alcoholic", one needs to take heed.
Earlier in questions, it was pointed out that the strategy on alcohol abuse will be available in the new yearin February, I understand. The police, local authorities and courts not only need to be mindful of the impact of binge drinking but to get the message across in schools and to our young people about the dangerous outcomes that can result and about being completely unable to cope after taking huge amounts of alcohol. We need to look into the matter, to ensure that licences work and that those who sell alcohol, whatever the venue, take some responsibility for their actions.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint): Both the first national policing plan, for 200306, and the current plan, for 200407, specifically expect the police to give attention to effective road policing, to contribute to the achievement of the road safety strategy, and to include in local plans strategies for reducing road deaths and injuries. We take that aspect of policing seriously, which is why we plan to get it across to all police forces.
Mr. Kidney : I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does she agree that although safety cameras at dangerous locations are saving lives, there is also great value in police officers patrolling our roads, visibly enforcing road traffic laws? Will she ensure that national guidance reflects that great value?
Caroline Flint: The safety camera scheme is having an impact and will continue to do so. The results from the two-year pilot of the scheme in eight areas show that, on average, the number of people killed or seriously injured at camera sites has gone down by 35 per cent. I know that will be heartwarming news for my hon. Friend, as he is co-chair of the all-party transport safety group.
We take seriously the involvement of police officers; a visible police presence is important. We have also considered whether other people can be engaged in such work, which is why some powers have been provided for community support officers. We shall also be working with the Highways Agency to ensure that it can deal with the management of roads at accident scenes while the police get on with finding out what happened and with following up any criminal action. Those are all important parts of ensuring that road safety enforcement works effectively.
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): Given that we have some of the safest roads in Europe, should not far greater priority be given to putting police officers on to our streets, rather than on to our motorways?
Caroline Flint: Such matters are for police forces to determine in their areas, but I do not think that it is an either/or issue. We must ensure that we use the technology that is available. On average, a police officer using automatic number plate recognition technology makes 110 arrests a year, compared with 10 a year without the technology. That is making the best use of 21st century technology and making sure that we put police where they are needed: on our streets and in our communities.