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Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend aware that a large percentage of drug users picked up the habit while in prison? Does he agree that the Government have done far too little to combat the abuse of drugs in our prisons?
David Davis: My hon. Friend is right. That is one of the reasonsonly one of the reasonswhy one of our policies is to divert a large number of youngsters who are subject only to drug offences into residential rehabilitation, rather than putting them in prison and creating a life of crime, and to have similar programmes inside prison and continuing after prison, to ensure that people who get into criminality get off that track.
The Government prefer to rely on drug treatment and testing orders, yet more than two thirds of those orders end without being completed in full. The reconviction rate for those failing to complete was over 90 per cent. That is a terrible indictment of the system. Rising drug use is not inevitable. I have seen for myself in the United States how the President's drug strategy is working. It has reduced teenage drug use by 17 per cent. in just three years. That was done by working through schools, by preventionnot just attempted cureand by giving young people the will and the inner strength to say no when drugs are offered, as they often are. Less drug use will mean less violent crime, and this is a violent crime reduction Bill.
That brings me to the second way in which a Government can tackle the causes of crime. Most young people who slip into criminality and who then stayed mired in it do so because it seemed the easiest option at the time. Of course, they should decide to change, but they do not do soit is too hard and too much effort. To alter that situation, they must know that the benefits that they expect from offending will be reduced and that the penalties will be magnified by a rigorous criminal justice system.
Such young people also need something elsehope. A Government can generate a culture of hope that truly favours individual and voluntary initiative, that genuinely writes off no one and that determinedly empowers people rather than trapping them at the bottom of the pile. However, they can easily do the opposite of that by creating, allowing or perpetuating a culture of utter and bitter hopelessness, which is the case in too much of Britain today.
British society is blocked: the country is less socially mobile than it was 30 years ago and one third of households now rely on the state for more than half of their income. Living in deprivation is not easy or pleasant, and people get the worst of everything, including crime. The figures confirm that point: if someone is unemployed, they are twice as likely to be a victim of crime; and if someone lives in the most deprived areas, they are three times as likely to be a victim of crime. The figures are even worse for violent crime.
Mr. Kevan Jones:
I am very interested in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, which is obviously a leadership bid
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to the new, cuddly, friendly Conservative party, and I actually agree with many of his remarks. However, does he agree that former mining villages in my constituency have lost hope because of the previous Conservative Government?
David Davis: That question barely justifies a response, but I shall give it one. The hon. Gentleman's opening remark was thoroughly unworthy, and he went on to mention the problems in mining villages, which nobody doubts. However, nobody doubts that problems also exist in other parts of the country where manufacturing is collapsinghe should visit MG Rover. We stand for a society in which everybody has an opportunity, and I am not just talking about stacking the shelves in Tesco.
The worst thing is when people find that they cannot break out, however hard they try. The Government's social policies have deprived poorer people of the two things that they need most in the worldpersonal dignity and the hope of improvement. Their criminal justice policies have left the most vulnerable in our society exposed to the rule of the thug and the bully. And their planning and housing policies are repeating the failures that condemned an earlier generation to growing up in crime-stricken communities. Those are the causes of crime.
It is plain common sense that where a child grows up is a formative influence on how he or she comes to see the world. If people live in an environment strewn with burnt-out cars or on an estate with broken and boarded-up windows, or if people walk through stair wells littered with syringes and filth, they start out with a jaundiced view of life. The peer pressures are enormous, particularly for children from broken homes, and those pressures are nearly always bad in such conditions. In one sense, one can never remove the causes of crime, because those causes are locked into the deepest recesses of human nature, but one can let in the light, give people a chance and offer opportunity.
I agree with the Prime Minister's aspiration, but I deplore his lack of achievement. This Bill is a minor response to a massive problem. It is called the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, but in truth it will not reduce violent crime, although it may limit its increase in some cases. The Government's criminal justice strategy, of which the Bill is a modest and undistinguished part, fails to engage with the roots of the problem. The Bill fails to attack the causes of crime, while again pursuing a plethora of headline-grabbing initiatives that attack the symptoms of crime. It is time to prevent drunk and disorderly behaviour, not merely to manage it; it is time to stop the plague of drugs that afflicts our youngsters, not merely to cope with the consequences; and it is time, at last, to be tough on the causes of crime, rather than, as in this Bill, merely treating the symptoms.
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab):
Over the past few years, the Government have achieved significant success in reducing crime overall, but there is no doubt that the perception that violent crime has risen, or is rising, mars their overall achievement and has an impact on their confidence. It is therefore not surprising, but welcome, that they have introduced the Bill.
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I use the word "perception" in relation to violent crime because it is often difficult to get a grip on exactly what is happening. When one considers, for example, that well over half of all recorded violent crime did not involve any injury to the victim, one can see that the statistics are hard to understand. That happens to be the case, although it is not quite as daft as it sounds. There has certainly been an increase in the recording of non-injury crimes that would never have been recorded by the police 10 years ago; that is why the recording system has been changed. The statistics also tell us that there has been an increase in certain types of crime that are at the more violent end of the spectrumgun crime or knife crimeor are in more public places and involve a greater risk of crime from strangers or acquaintances.
The sense that the number of such crimes is rising generates the current public concern. Some of us are not necessarily happy with that. Those of us who worked for years on domestic violence have never entirely bought the idea that violence from someone one knows is in some way better or more acceptable than from someone one does not know. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the fear of violence in public places from strangers has a greater resonance with the public and makes a greater contribution to public concern.
The Bill has some potentially useful measures, but they will be so only if they are put into practice alongside many others. It has measures that essentially close loopholes, cover gaps or nuance existing policiesfor example, the difference between a banning order and an antisocial behaviour orderand measures in areas where the pressure to be seen to act has become overwhelming. I am not yet convinced that the measures on imitation firearms will reduce the number of victims of firearm crime, but I understand why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary believes that it is necessary none the less to be seen to act against what the public generally regard as a scandalthe widespread marketing of such weapons.
Let me deal with a couple of issues that should have been acted on previously. The measures on alcohol disorder zones are overdue. I wish that it had been possible to incorporate that approach in the Licensing Act 2003. The current proposals reflect the debate that raged within Government at that time between the argument that the whole industry, responsible or not, is plying people with alcohol in town and city centres and needs to pick up the cost, and the argument that we have to deal with badly run premises. It is welcome that my right hon. Friend has moved towards saying that the industry as a whole, not the relatively small number of badly run premises, has to pick up the costs of policing, late night transport, street cleaning and so on. The Bill potentially takes us a long way in the direction of ensuring that the costs lie where they properly should. However, I have a couple of caveats about that; it will be important to scrutinise the Bill carefully as it goes through Committee.
I take my right hon. Friend's answer to my earlier question straightforwardly. He clearly wishes that the statutory scheme of an alcohol disorder zone, with fees set in Whitehall, should be applied locally in as few places as possible, and hopes that the threat of an action plan or the putting in place of an action plan will lead to better, locally tailored schemes that suit the needs of each area. I share that view. I have no desire to see a
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national scheme imposed willy-nilly on every single town and city centre. Equally, let us be blunt about this, if the Bill does not result in a much more substantial contribution from the drinks industry to the costs of policing and maintaining our town and city centres, it will fall short of what is needed. At the moment, the costs of policing those town and city centres is borne by council tax payers who by and large do not live in themthey pay their bills but do not see a police officer on a Friday or Saturday night because they are all down at the town centre policing the binge drinking. We must ensure that relatively low-scale voluntary schemes are not put in place as an alternative to a proper charging regime. Although I commend, and have seen, many of the voluntary schemes that have been mentioned today, most of them fall well short of the level of contribution that is required towards the costs of policing our town and city centres.
I hope that we will be able to see the guidance that comes from the Home Office before the Bill completes its passage in this House, because that will be crucial in determining the threshold of the problem that one must have before one can initiate an action plan or have an alcohol disorder zone. If that threshold is set too high, the measures in the Bill will apply in too limited a number of circumstances.
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