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Custodial Facilities (Young People)

4. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): If he will take steps to improve custodial facilities for young people. [4]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): The Government believe that the juvenile secure estate should provide a safe and constructive environment in which children in custody can be helped to choose a future free of reoffending. The Youth Justice Board's recent consultation paper makes a range of proposals for improving both the infrastructure of the estate and the regime and programmes that we provide for young people. The board will report shortly on the responses that it has received.

Ms Keeble: When examining the regimes in youth training centres, will the Minister examine in particular the high use of restraint in secure training centres run by the private sector, especially in Rainsbrook, where last year a young boy died as a result of restraint techniques?

Fiona Mactaggart: There has been a report into the use of restraint, and there will be a report within the next two weeks to Ministers about the use of restraint in the juvenile estate.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): When does the Minister expect there to be a reduction in the number of young people in secure institutions? When does she expect the amount of effective education to go up and rehabilitation to start to work more effectively?

Fiona Mactaggart: I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that the number of young people in the secure estate is down—it was 3,175 and is currently 2,659. The number of educational qualifications achieved by young people in custody is growing all the time. There has been substantial investment in education. The number of qualifications achieved has increased, with 4,852 people gaining basic skills qualifications, 577 of which were at level 2, which is equivalent to a reasonable GCSE. Therefore, we are making progress on the issues about which the hon. Gentleman is rightly concerned and we will continue to do so.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Is my hon. Friend aware that just before the election, the Select Committee on Education and Skills published a thorough report on prison education, during which we took a lot of evidence in prisons, particularly Feltham young offenders institution, which has improved greatly in the past couple of years? There has been much investment in prison education but there is a long way to go. Will she look at our report, study its recommendations and talk to her colleagues in the Department?

Fiona Mactaggart: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and his Select Committee for their report. On Friday, I visited Feltham specifically to look at education in that establishment. I talked to young people who were doing vocational and other qualifications. I talked also to
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many of the people who taught them. It is essential that we use the experience of detention to try to help young people to be less likely to offend in future. We know that one of the ways to do that is to reduce their chronic experience of educational failure. I am determined to ensure that we do that.

Police (Administrative Burden)

5. Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): What assessment he has made of the administrative burden for police personnel. [5]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham): Making the best possible use of the record policing resources we have is central to building a more responsive and effective police service. Our drive to cut police bureaucracy has led to the scrapping of 7,700 unnecessary forms, more civilian staffing of backroom posts, and greater use of technology such as video identity parades. Taken together, those and other measures will free up the equivalent of 12,000 officers for the front line by 2008.

Mr. Forth: While congratulating the hon. Gentleman on his appointment and new responsibilities, may I say that I hope that he does not show the same complacency when he answers questions in future? Is he seriously suggesting that he is remotely happy with the constraints that now exist on our excellent police officers, who are trying to do a job on the front line when they are burdened by bureaucracy, paperwork, administration, political correctness and all the other nonsense that this Government have put around their necks?

Andy Burnham: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his generous welcome. Perhaps I can pay him a back-handed compliment by saying that he would not have been my first choice of inquisitor at the Dispatch Box.

The Home Secretary acknowledged last week that there is further to go in cutting unnecessary bureaucracy in the police force, but the right hon. Gentleman must accept that a level of bureaucracy is necessary if we are to have an accountable police force that has the confidence of the public. He and his Conservative colleagues need to bear that in mind.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): May I also welcome my hon. Friend to his position? Far from criticising his Department, may I welcome the initiatives that it has introduced, particularly its innovative use of technology to break down the burden of bureaucracy? How soon will best practice in reducing bureaucracy, particularly the innovative use of technology, be rolled out to all forces throughout the land?

Andy Burnham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome. He raises an important point. That drive was begun by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (John Denham) and was carried on by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety. The aim is to increase the amount of time that police spend on the front line from 63 per cent. to 72 per cent. Technology is playing a part in that. Increasingly, we are using video identity
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parades. Airwave radios have enabled police to carry out their functions much more efficiently. My hon. Friend makes a sensible point. It is crucial that we spread best practice around the 43 police forces.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): Will the Minister tell us what plans he has to reduce the extent of bureaucratic and costly inspections of the police force, and of procedures such as best value?

Andy Burnham: The challenge that we must look at is rationalising the inspection process and the institutions that carry it out. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this Front-Bench team is committed to ensuring that that takes place.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): How much bureaucracy ensued as a result of that police officer travelling at 159 mph on the motorway?

Andy Burnham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me an easy question on my first appearance at the Dispatch Box. I know the case to which he refers, and the police force in question took rapid steps to say that that practice was not acceptable. As a result of that case, we now have a more sensible regime in place.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): May I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his new responsibilities? Will he identify any way in which the Government's best value scheme has increased police efficiency, reduced crime, improved detection rates, made our streets safer or improved our civil liberties?

Andy Burnham: The new procurement procedures to which the hon. and learned Gentleman refers have removed many outdated practices. Across the 43 police forces, there is much more sensible use of technology and civilians have been put into backroom posts. Throughout the police services of England and Wales, the best value regime is helping the police to procure in a more sensible way. Over time, it is helping to free up police time spent on the front line, which is important to communities.

Drugs Intervention Programme

7. Mr. Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the progress of the drugs intervention programme. [8]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): In March 2005, more than 1,900 drug-misusing offenders entered drug treatment through the drugs intervention programme—the highest number since the programme began. This intensive programme is now operating in 97 areas with a history of high levels of drug-related crime. Recorded acquisitive crime, of which drug-related crime is the most significant proportion, fell by 11 per cent. between December 2003 and December 2004.

Mr. Wright: I thank the Minister for that reply. The drugs intervention programme has been a huge success in my constituency, resulting in reduced reoffending rates and drug use, and contributing to a 22 per cent. fall
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in overall crime in the past year. But the money for the programme runs out in 2008. What steps will the Minister take to make sure that this valuable scheme continues beyond that date, and that police officers are able to plan beyond it?

Paul Goggins: I pay tribute to the way in which my hon. Friend has campaigned on these issues in his constituency. He is correct to say that crime is down in his area, particularly robberies and theft, which are the crimes most closely associated with drug offending. In March alone, 45 individuals in Hartlepool got into drug treatment through the drugs intervention programme. The funding to which my hon. Friend refers is secure for the spending period within which we are currently operating. Further plans for the spending review will be considered in due course, but a programme that is making such a difference in driving down drug use and its connection with crime will certainly be a strong contender in any future consideration.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): The United States Government have managed to reduce drug use among schoolchildren by 17 per cent. in three years. What has happened to drug use among schoolchildren in this country during eight years under this Government?

Paul Goggins: According to the latest schools survey, drug use among schoolchildren is down, which we will all welcome. It is down from 21 per cent. to a regrettable figure of 18 per cent., which Members in all parts of the House will still regard as too high. We have to tackle the supply of drugs and make sure that where drugs are used, the situation is dealt with appropriately. We also need to educate our children and young people about the impact of crime on them and their families, and through programmes such as the "Frank" campaign, straightforward information is given to schoolchildren. This is not an easy issue to deal with, and if the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that it is, he is wrong. However, we are dealing with it.

David Davis: The truth is that drug use has risen by two thirds since 1998; almost a fifth of teenagers are exposed to drugs each year, compared with one in 10 in 1998. That is the true figure. A former Labour Cabinet Minister said recently that cannabis use by young people had rocketed in the last two years and that kids did not believe it to be illegal. Do the Government now accept responsibility for the damage that has been caused to thousands of young people by use of cannabis?

Paul Goggins: My answer to the right hon. Gentleman is to emphasise that cannabis is illegal and can be harmful. When we reclassified cannabis to class C from class B, we wanted to accentuate the campaign against the most damaging drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin. I hope that he will see that the campaign against those drugs is of the highest importance.

On reclassification, in March my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—in view of concerns expressed about the potential connection between use of cannabis and mental illness and emerging, stronger strains of
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cannabis—referred the matter back to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which will come forward with recommendations in due course.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend is quite right to say that tackling drug abuse is key to tackling crime, but will he go one step further and look at what happens to people after they have been through drug treatment programmes? Is now not the time to look at developing ways of supporting people after treatment by helping them to get jobs and proper housing, because sending them back to the same estates with the same drug dealer around the corner often leads them to go back to drugs and hence back to crime?

Paul Goggins: As always, my hon. Friend makes a   telling point. On criminality, it is important that the   rehabilitation and recovery programme provides effective support in terms of housing, education, employment and mentoring, all of which will be part of the drug treatment programmes as they are across the criminal justice system.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): May I take the Minister back to his answer on cannabis to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis)? Will he explain to the House how it harms the suppliers of hard drugs to say to the nation's young people that they will get away with a slap on the wrist if they take cannabis but that they must buy cannabis from criminals, which is the ridiculous half-way house to which he has taken the law on cannabis?

Paul Goggins: The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood my point, which was that it was important that the police could focus all their attention on the most dangerous and harmful drugs, such as crack cocaine and heroin. It does not mean that cannabis is not harmful or illegal; it remains illegal. The police can focus their resources and, frankly, the message to young people is credible. If we argue that cannabis is as harmful as crack cocaine or heroin, we will not be credible with the young people whom we are trying to get off drugs.

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