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Mr. Sutcliffe: Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this important subject. In this regard, I agree
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with Lord Ramsbotham, who is also pushing the issue. During the Bill’s progress, I shall be happy to consider ways in which we can improve the situation regarding speech therapy. The hon. Gentleman will know that there are implications for the Department of Health and for the Department for Education and Skills, and I am happy to discuss the matter with other Ministers to see what progress can be made.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): I share the Minister’s desire to open up the provision of probation services to a wider range of organisations, but does he share my view that, because many local authorities already have responsibility for housing, training, employment and community facilities, they are ideally placed to be providers of some NOMS services and to bring the different agencies together? Will he confirm that the NOMS Bill will enable local authorities to put themselves forward as new providers?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, for raising the issue of the role of local authorities. It seems to me that once someone becomes an offender, they are forgotten, or seen as something different, by our communities, and he is right to say that local authorities have a key role to play here. I was pleased to see that, two weeks ago, the Local Government Association produced a pamphlet called “Neighbourhood to Neighbourhood”. That is the first time in my memory that local government has accepted its responsibilities in dealing with offenders, including by using its expertise in housing, social services and many other areas. I agree with my right hon. Friend that this is a core issue, and I can assure him that we will look at it and that the NOMS Bill will give local authorities the opportunity to be involved.

Tackling Crime

4. Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): What steps he is taking to tackle the causes of crime; and if he will make a statement. [106793]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): The latest published British crime survey figures show that crime has come down by 35 per cent. since 1997. We are determined to reduce the harm that drug and alcohol-related crime causes communities, and to tackle problems of most concern. Our focus on the most violent crimes remains our top priority. The Government have a broad range of programmes in place that focus on those most at risk of offending, including young people.

Ms Butler: Last week, two of my constituents, aged 17 and 18—two young murderers—were convicted and sentenced to life for killing Tom ap Rhys Price, who was murdered just outside an underground station. Further, a 17-year-old was arrested for shooting a 16-year-old. Does my hon. Friend agree that, although we are showing that we are tough on crime and the causes of crime, we need to introduce more preventive
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measures, perhaps encourage initiatives such as Brent’s “Not Another Drop” campaign and the Damilola Taylor Trust’s “Respect Your Life Not A Knife” campaign, and spend more on youth services? Will he also join me in—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady’s question is far too long.

Ms Butler: Can I—

Mr. Speaker: No. Keep the question for next month.

Joan Ryan: I am aware of the tragic events to which my hon. Friend refers, and our sympathies are indeed with the families of those victims. In particular, I pay tribute to the approach taken by the family and fiancée of Tom ap Rhys Price following his tragic death. I also commend my hon. Friend, who works with the various groups in her constituency to tackle these difficult issues and to prevent any further such tragedies.

Since the 2005 Budget, the Home Office has invested an additional £45 million in specific targeted programmes to prevent offending and antisocial behaviour. Those programmes, which are indeed delivered through local youth offending teams, are focused on those children and young people most at risk of offending, as identified locally by a range of agencies. We support local projects working on knife crime through the Connected Fund, and other initiatives working through the “Be Safe” programmes, which are educating young people on the risks and consequences of carrying knives. We are also supporting the Damilola Taylor Trust campaign. I understand—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must stop the hon. Lady.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): The Minister will know that there are more than 1 million class A drug users in this country, probably 250,000 of whom fund their habit through acquisitive crime. Many of them are dependent on heroin and are very young. Does she accept that that is a tragedy? Does she further accept that the best way to treat those people is to put them into residential rehab? Is it not the case that we are far too short of residential rehab beds and that the funding—I am told by so many in that service—is drying up? Can she help?

Joan Ryan: Of course we acknowledge the link between drugs and crime, but the statistics and the evidence indicate that acquisitive crime is falling. The hon. Gentleman will know that there has been a significant reduction in crime overall. The drug interventions programme involves criminal justice and treatment agencies working together with other services to provide a tailored solution for adults, and we are seeing some significant results. Although residential rehabilitation has its place, he should look at the evidence and information about the drug interventions programme and the success we are seeing there.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Why has violent crime gone up by 100 per cent. over the last decade, and by 2 per cent. last year?

Joan Ryan: Contrary to what is often said in the media, violent crime has fallen significantly in recent years, as have other crimes. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the British crime survey shows
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that violent crime has nearly halved since a peak in 1995. He will also be aware that since 1997 we have introduced more than 14,000 extra police officers to tackle all kinds of crime. They are delivering results. That is not to say that there is no serious crime, and we are prioritising serious and violent crime, but we should pay tribute to the work that our police forces are doing in tackling those issues.

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that drug taking is increasing among Asian youths, drawing them further into criminal activities? What is she doing to tackle that growing new problem?

Joan Ryan: As I have said, we are aware of the strong link between drugs and crime. At local level, youth crime prevention programmes are delivering results. However, in relation to a specific community, it is important that we keep under constant review whether all communities have access to the programmes that I have mentioned and whether they are delivering equally for them all. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss those issues in relation to Asian youth.

Police Force Amalgamations

5. Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): What recent representations he has received on the reimbursement of costs arising from aborted police force amalgamations. [106794]

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Mr. Tony McNulty): Since the announcement on 30 October 2006 of the contributions being offered to police authorities for their additional costs, we have received a small number of representations on this issue from hon. Members, police authorities and police forces, and from members of the public seeking clarification of the offers being made.

Sir Peter Tapsell: Will the Minister please convey to the Home Secretary my congratulations on his having again managed to escape a pending fiasco? I thank him for providing Lincolnshire with £287,000, but does the Minister recognise that the aborting of the shambles of the merger of the provincial police forces has been damaging to police morale, as well as costing the taxpayer £4 million?

Mr. McNulty: Given the fact, to which the hon. Gentleman alluded, that Lincolnshire asked for £287,600, which included funding for a range of ongoing projects to do with the whole of the east midlands, and that the Government gave the force £287,600, I shall, despite his tiresome, overblown rhetoric, take that as a thank you.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): The issue of amalgamations may have gone, but the issues that they were designed to address have not necessarily disappeared. In all my conversations with West Midlands police, I found that they were keen on amalgamation. Can my hon. Friend assure me that everything is being done by other means, including voluntary co-operation between police forces, to address the gaps in provision outlined in the report that underpinned amalgamation?

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Mr. McNulty: To be entirely fair to even the most vociferous critics of the proposals for strategic forces, nobody resiled from the notion that there were gaps at protective service level and that they had to be filled. Certainly, since we stepped away from the policy in the summer, there have been extensive meetings with the West Midlands force and others, both in the Home Office and elsewhere in the country. My hon. Friend makes a very serious point about the fact that the gaps in protective—level 2—services have not diminished; they are still there and will be addressed in the ways he suggests.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Is the Minister aware that there is real anger in my constituency and throughout Cambridgeshire, as people of all parties feel that my local constabulary has been robbed of £142,000—money that could have been spent on five or six beat bobbies patrolling the streets, tackling violent crime and other issues in my constituency? Is not it the fact that there was never any real academic or empirical evidence to support the decision to press ahead with regional police forces? Why does not the Minister have the courage of his convictions and admit that fact?

Mr. McNulty: The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong in his language and entirely wrong about the final recommendations of the O’Connor report. We have said clearly that we think that strategic forces are indeed the answer. Others have said that they think there are other ways to address the real gaps, which everybody recognises are there. It is time for all forces to consider how to fill those gaps short of merged forces. In a debate on law and order, the hon. Gentleman should not use the word “robbed” so carelessly.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I wonder whether the Minister can help me, as I am a little confused. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) proposed the mergers, I was opposed to them, and some of our mutual friends accused me of not supporting Government policy. As the mergers are not coming about, am I now supporting Government policy, and will the Minister ensure that my council tax payers in Essex are fully reimbursed for campaigning against that foolhardy and ill-thought-out proposal?

Mr. McNulty: We said clearly that, for the additional costs sustained by activity on mergers, councils or police authorities will be duly compensated.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Fully?

Mr. McNulty: Duly compensated in the context of the criteria that we laid down. By the by, nearly all authorities have accepted precisely what was offered to them.

Andrew Mackinlay: Am I supporting Government policy now?

Mr. McNulty: My hon. Friend may be, in the sense that in a very mature and reflective way the Government have listened to the debate and to what many police authorities and forces said.

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Many police forces—not all, by the by, but certainly more than Lancashire and Cumbria—were in favour of merger, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) suggested. However, having listened to the substantive debate, forces and others said that there were other ways to meet the protective services gaps and we are now involved in that exercise. I said clearly on the day that we stepped away from the enforced merger policy that it was for police authorities, working with Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the Government, to make it clear to all communities up and down the country that they can fill the gaps in ways other than enforced mergers. If they do, all well and good; if they do not, it may be something that we revisit.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): Only two thirds of the merger costs incurred by police authorities have actually been reimbursed. In any case, that money should never have been spent on ill-conceived merger plans and management consultants. It should have been spent on policing. How can the Minister justify that waste of millions of pounds when he is reneging on funding for police community support officers, so there will now be 8,000 fewer of them on the streets than the Government pledged in their manifesto just 18 months ago?

Mr. McNulty: On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, let us be clear that, if it were left to the Conservatives, there would be minus 24,000 and no police community support officers at all. PCSOs are doing a very good job, supplementing police forces up and down the country, not least in his constituency. I do not accept the starting premise of his question—that two thirds of merger costs were not reimbursed. Two thirds of applications put in that included merger costs were not imbursed. Over 20 of the 43 forces received their reimbursement in full. We said clearly from the start that we would not allow opportunity and other costs to be thrown in for the hell of it so that forces could accrue more moneys. We have had a range of meetings since the summer and it is entirely wrong of the hon. Gentleman to suggest that much of the work done during the mergers was wasted. Forces up and down the country are making significant advances in filling in the gaps in protective services precisely because of the work that was done over the summer and before.

Alcohol-related Crime

6. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the contribution of alcohol abuse to levels of violent crime. [106795]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): According to the British crime survey 2005-06, published on 20 July 2006, victims believed the offender or offenders to be under the influence of alcohol in 44 per cent. of all violent incidents—approximately the same level as for 2004-05. The offender was judged to be under the influence of alcohol in 54 per cent. of incidents of stranger violence—a decrease from 60 per cent. in 2004-05.

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Dr. Starkey: Those figures back up my concern based on my constituency experience that insufficient priority is being given to provide treatment programmes for those addicted to alcohol. That is given much lower priority than treatments for those addicted to illegal drugs. Will the Minister look again at the need for increasing funding for treatment programmes for those addicted to alcohol—both for health reasons and to reduce the crime figures?

Mr. Coaker: We are working closely with the Department of Health to ensure that dependent drinkers get the treatment that they need. We also have an alcohol harm reduction strategy, which is about not only tackling those who are dependent on drink, but changing the culture and doing something about binge drinking. My hon. Friend will know that recently we launched an advertising campaign called “Know Your Limits”, which set out to do something about that. I can also tell her that we are considering introducing an alcohol interventions programme, which might include referrals from alcohol-related offences for health treatment, counselling and other such support.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend will have read reports over the weekend about a minority of criminals with serious mental health problems committing serious crimes. Some 10 years ago, the Department of Health was concerned about double diagnosis, where mental health patients in the community were also becoming alcoholic. Such a dual diagnosis must surely be a contributory factor to that serious crime, so is my hon. Friend monitoring the situation?

Mr. Coaker: We are, indeed, monitoring it. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey), the criminal justice system reform document, “Rebalancing the Criminal Justice System in Favour of the Law-Abiding Majority” looked into how to use an alcohol intervention programme to support people who need help, following alcohol-related disorder. I said that we are also working with the Department of Health with respect to alcoholism where people are dependent on drink. We are very much aware of the problem and we are also reviewing the alcohol harm reduction strategy. We know that alcohol is an important issue and we want to see what more we can do to tackle it.

Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): Has the Minister made any assessment of the link between alcohol abuse and the use of knives in committing serious offences?

Mr. Coaker: I am not aware that we have done any specific research into that, but we are, of course, tackling alcohol-related violence wherever it occurs, and we have introduced a number of measures to deal with it. We have recently increased the maximum sentence available to the courts for the possession of a knife from two years to four. As I have said, we are determined to crack down on violence, whether alcohol-related or involving the use of knives, or whatever.

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Illegal Immigrants (Employment)

7. Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the adequacy of penalties that apply to employers of illegal immigrants. [106796]

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): To strengthen the existing powers to prosecute and fine the employers of illegal migrant workers, we took action in the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 to introduce a system of civil penalties for careless employers and a criminal offence of knowingly employing illegal workers. That will come into force by the end of 2007.

Gordon Banks: Does the Minister agree that certain sectors of industry lend themselves to that kind of abuse more readily than others? Coming from the construction industry, I have considerable experience of that sector. Does he agree that the construction industry is just such a sector? What is he doing and who is he speaking to in the trade unions, trade bodies and other appropriate organisations and Departments to try to halt such abuse?

Mr. Byrne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. We are working with a wide range of employers and the CBI, as well as with trade unions, to understand how we can come down much harder on the cause of illegal immigration, which is obviously not the great British weather, but the opportunity to work in a sustained and growing economy. That is not only why we are doubling the resources that we are investing in enforcement and removal, but why we are proposing a new package of measures, so that those employers who break the rule, undercut competitors and employ people illegally will now face not only civil penalties, but where necessary, unlimited fines and imprisonment.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The Minister must be aware that there is not a Member who does not have within their constituency those who have applied for asylum who often have to wait months, sometimes years, for their asylum applications to be dealt with and, likewise, those who have had their asylum applications turned down who are, again, held in limbo for some considerable time before being removed from the country. Invariably and inevitably, those people are sucked into the black economy. Is not the reason for illegal immigrants simply that the Home Office and the immigration and nationality directorate have not got a grip on the asylum system?

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