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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland (Dr. Kumar) on securing this debate. Tackling local crime is an important issue for all right hon. and hon. Members and I   am glad that he had the opportunity to air his views. I pay tribute to his personal role in bearing down on criminality in his constituency.

My hon. Friend kindly invited me to come to Middlesbrough to see some of these things for myself. I   paid a private visit to his constituency as recently as last Saturday; sadly, it was to attend the funeral of a very dear friend of mine, David Boyes. I hope to return in happier times.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his forthright and considered assessment of the current position on crime and disorder in Middlesbrough. He attributed considerable credit to the elected mayor and it was encouraging to hear his observation that the residents of Middlesbrough are pleased with the progress that is being made. The local crime and disorder reduction partnership is making a real difference and I am pleased to join my hon. Friend in praising the local police. I was particularly pleased to hear him emphasise the way in which the agencies in the Middlesbrough area are working well together and making the best use of the available resources.

This debate comes at a very opportune time as the   crime and disorder reduction partnership in Middlesbrough has undergone a number of changes recently. It is now in a better position to deliver its ambitious target of reducing crime by over 20 per cent. by 2008. Such a target is not an end in itself but, if achieved, will have a considerable impact on the safety and confidence of my hon. Friend's constituents.

I will comment in more detail on the situation in Middlesbrough in a moment, but first, I should like to set the context by saying one or two things about the Government's overall strategy for reducing crime and the progress that we are making.

Although it is true that our constituents remain understandably worried about crime and still perceive it as one of the main issues that the Government need to address, in fact, crime in England and Wales has been falling dramatically over the past decade. Since 1997, overall crime as measured by the British crime survey is down by 35 per cent., with particularly significant reductions in domestic burglary and vehicle crime. According to the BCS, violent crime has reduced by 34 per cent. in the same period.
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However, such progress is meaningful only if it is translated from percentages into something practical and real at local level that enables local communities to feel safer and to be more secure. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for explaining how this strategy applies in a challenging urban area such as Middlesbrough, which experiences a wide range of crime-related problems. I   am certainly pleased to hear positive feedback about   how crime and disorder is being tackled in Middlesbrough, and how the local community's concerns are being taken fully into account.

As I said at the beginning, this is a good time to talk about crime and disorder in Middlesbrough. This year, the Audit Commission found evidence that fear of crime in Middlesbrough appears to be reducing—a feeling supported by recent significant reductions in vehicle crime and robbery. Acquisitive crime—such crime is often associated with drug misuse, as my hon. Friend said—has also reduced significantly overall, pointing to the success of programmes and initiatives such as the drug interventions programme, which is targeted at drug misusers caught in the criminal justice system, and   the prolific and priority offenders programme. The   latter is targeted at those who commit a disproportionate amount of crime and disorder in our communities.

This progress was noted during self-assessment of the prolific offenders scheme that was recently conducted in   collaboration with the Government office for the north-east. The scheme was particularly strong in areas such as performance management and establishing good practice. The interim evaluation report on the national prolific offenders strategy, which was published just a couple of weeks ago, suggests that the scheme may be having a positive impact on re-offending among this hard core group. I will follow the progress of the Middlesbrough scheme with great interest following this debate. Some other partnerships in the area are also having a positive impact. For example, the Cleveland local criminal justice board is bringing agencies together to ensure, for example, that a larger number of offenders are brought to justice, and that greater community confidence can be built throughout the local area.

Following the 2004 crime and disorder audit in Middlesbrough, extensive consultation took place involving community organisations, businesses and other stakeholders, in order to help set out the local strategy for the period 2005–08. Respondents were asked about their main priorities for the partnership to tackle, and the following five themes were identified as being of greatest concern: antisocial behaviour, misuse of drugs, house burglary, robbery and mugging, and street violence. As a result of this consultation, the Safer Middlesbrough partnership has agreed an ambitious 20.1 per cent. crime reduction target for the period 2005–08. This target includes a reduction in common assault and wounding of 30 per cent. The partnership has been restructured to integrate drug and crime issues fully under a new chair and a new executive. Although the partnership faces a period of change, local people have every reason to be positive about the changes that have been made, which should ensure that the right structures are in place to deliver the area's crime reduction target.
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Other welcome developments include the introduction of four problem-solving groups to cover the whole of Middlesbrough, in alignment with the community policing areas. The partnership is also implementing initiatives to address drug and alcohol-related violent crime.

I would also like to commend the partnership agencies in Middlesbrough for their success in tackling antisocial behaviour, using a range of effective tactics, such as antisocial behaviour orders and dispersal orders, to make the streets and neighbourhoods safer. My hon. Friend mentioned and laid great emphasis on the respect agenda, which is being led from the centre and right across government, introducing a range of practical measures to deal with disorder and change the culture so that we can remove fear and enable people to feel safer in their own homes and on their streets. My hon. Friend was quite right to emphasise that it is the poor and the vulnerable who suffer most when people show disrespect in our local communities. Dealing with the problem is very much a matter of social justice.

In support of those improvements, Government investment in Middlesbrough is increasing. During the current year, the Safer Middlesbrough partnership will receive a total of £345,220 from the Home Office element of the safer stronger communities fund. That will be   used to help achieve the agreed crime reduction targets as well as local priorities and includes £25,000 specifically to tackle antisocial behaviour.

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): The Minister rightly makes great play of the importance of reducing drug offending, especially among young people, but does he accept that in order to get young people off   drugs, they have to go through a period of rehabilitation? However, there is currently only one place in rehab for every 10 juvenile drug addicts, so will he clarify how he intends to deal with that problem, not just in Middlesbrough but throughout the country more widely?

Paul Goggins: I would be happy to make a few remarks that I intended to make in any event about drug misusers, particularly young people, and how best to deal with them. The best way to get them off drugs is to   prevent them from getting into drugs in the first place. That can help enormously and result in fewer victims of crime around the areas where they steal in order to fund their drug habits. Of course, residential rehabilitation can form an important part of a drug programme for a young person, as for an adult, but we need a range of programmes and interventions to make the difference.

The drug interventions programme is now developing well—not just in Middlesbrough but across the country—and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that in June this year, 2,000 drug misusing offenders came into treatment. That is well on the way to our target of getting 1,000 such offenders into treatment every week by 2008. Of course, once we have got people into treatment, we need to keep them in it to ensure that we reap the full impact—a change in their behaviour. Some of the signs are very encouraging. I attended an event earlier this evening and noted that people at the front line of drug services are developing better ways of
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ensuring that people stay in treatment. That can change their lives and ensure that they resort to fewer crimes in the future.

I and my hon. Friend have spoken positively about what is taking place locally and nationally, but there is no room for complacency at either local or national level   and we recognise the disproportionate impact that   crimes of violence can have on the confidence and well-being of a victim and in the wider community. That is why we introduced the Violent Crime Reduction Bill to give the police and local communities the powers that they need to tackle guns, knives and alcohol-related violence. There are a range of measures in the Bill with which my hon. Friend will be familiar.

We want to give the police and the courts new powers to tackle violent criminals and ensure that they are effectively punished. We want to crack down on imitation firearms and misuse of air guns. We want to raise to 18 the minimum age at which people can buy a knife. We want to give the police powers to require licensed pubs or clubs to search for weapons on entry, and to empower head teachers to search pupils for knives.

I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that the action that we are taking, the policies that I have described and the figures that I provided earlier all represent a significant achievement. Such achievements are often down to those people who work together at the local level to deliver services that can make a difference.

Perhaps most important is that the risk of being a victim of crime is now a quarter lower than it was in 1997, which means that 3.3 million fewer people are falling victim to crime. That encourages greater confidence in our communities, helping people to feel safer as fewer neighbours, friends and family members experience the trauma of burglary or robbery. We are also getting a firmer grip on antisocial behaviour and a combination of legislation and strong partnership is working to make our streets and communities safer. As my hon. Friend said, we have set up the respect task force to drive that agenda further forward.

We are working with our partners—the police, crime and disorder reduction partnerships, the correctional services and many others—to develop a wide-ranging strategy focused on several areas. First, we want to prevent and deter first-time offending, through interventions that deal with the causes of crime and divert young people in particular away from trouble. Secondly, the prolific and other priority offenders strategy targets those who commit most offences. We have plans to reduce the opportunities for crime, including making cars that are harder to steal, designing houses that are more difficult to burgle, creating environments that are safer, and—crucially—giving greater support to victims and witnesses. So much of what the Government have done in recent years has tried to redress the imbalance in the criminal justice system and make it much more in favour of the victims and witnesses of crime, not those who commit crime.

To complement those plans, we have record numbers not only of police officers, but police support staff, who are trained to carry out specific roles so that police officers can be freed up to protect the public by patrolling the streets where the public want to see them. We now have more than 6,300 community support
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officers in England and Wales and we are on target to   have 24,000—as promised in our election manifesto—by 2008. Community support officers and neighbourhood wardens, also mentioned by my hon. Friend, have increased the visibility of the police family by reassuring the community and preventing crime. The introduction of CSOs was one of the main planks of our first round of police reform—a process that we are continuing, in consultation with the police service and its partners.
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As I hope this debate has made clear, the Government have placed crime and disorder at the heart of our programme of reform. We are now seeing the results, not least in my hon. Friend's constituency. The Government are committed to building on our reforms and to continue to drive down crime and the fear of crime across our communities, including those represented by my hon. Friend.

Question put and agreed to.

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