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Violent Crime

4. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the use of head cameras in dealing with violent crime. [121293]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): Interim results from the Home Office review of the Plymouth police head camera project have shown encouraging results in obtaining earlier guilty pleas and providing irrefutable evidence for court cases where witnesses and victims are unwilling to attend. A final report on the Plymouth project will be available in the summer and further conclusions regarding the effectiveness of the technology will be made at that time.

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Linda Gilroy: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. The early results appear to include drops of 8 per cent. in violent crime and 18 per cent. in wounding in the first three months, and that has resulted in police authorities and other enforcement authorities from across the country and abroad beating a path to Plymouth’s door. Will he therefore ensure that the resources are available to learn the early lessons, in terms of both training and equipment, for Plymouth and other police authorities?

John Reid: I know that my hon. Friend keeps in touch with her local borough command unit commander and is very supportive of her local police. She will be pleased that the head camera project is still ongoing and that the interim report shows encouraging results. However, it covers only the first 10 weeks of a six-month project. It is therefore too early to draw firm conclusions on which to commit funding resources before a final evaluation is made of the new technology. The early signs are encouraging, however, especially in areas such as domestic violence, in which victims and witnesses are often reluctant or completely unwilling to attend court. The project has some time to run yet and I cannot say how we will stand in advance of the outcome of the full trial, but so far, so good.

Antisocial Behaviour Orders

5. Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): If he will make a statement on current numbers of breaches of antisocial behaviour orders. [121294]

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Mr. Tony McNulty): The effectiveness of the Government’s antisocial behaviour policies has been assessed in two key independent reports published just before the new year, by the National Audit Office and by the Youth Justice Board. Both confirmed that our twin-track approach of support and enforcement is effective in protecting our communities from antisocial behaviour.

Mr. Jackson: I thank the Minister for that reply. Recent figures from the Youth Justice Board show that more than 50 per cent. of ASBOs have been breached, a third of which have been breached on five or more occasions. Is not that proof positive that ASBOs are just another political gimmick from this Government? Is it not time that we tackled the real long-term causes of antisocial behaviour?

Mr. McNulty: That is not true and it simply will not do. If we are to tackle antisocial behaviour, we must tackle every aspect of it, including support for those who need it through to enforcement. To isolate breaches of ASBOs, which are just one spot on a continuum of assorted interventions that the Government are making on antisocial behaviour, undermines professionals who are working up and down the country to repair many of the dysfunctional aspects of our communities. That is not on: it does discredit to the hon. Gentleman and is a shame for those who are trying seriously to work with communities in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire and elsewhere.

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Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): As my hon. Friend knows, the press often describes how young people given ASBOs regard them as some sort of badge of honour. Will he tell me what more the Government can do to change the attitude of those young people and make them more socially responsible?

Mr. McNulty: I thank my hon. Friend for the question, but I do not accept the starting premise that children up and down the country regard ASBOs as a badge of honour. I do not doubt that some do, but if they persist in their antisocial behaviour they can wear their badge of honour with pride while they are doing time for breaching their ASBO. However, the real issue—as my hon. Friend implies—is that there is much that we need to do at the other end of the process, in terms of supporting families and parents. The assorted interventions that we have made in our communities up and down the country, from Sure Start, nursery provision and children’s centres all the way through to parenting support and other elements, are vital in tackling antisocial behaviour. It is not just about ASBOs, so I thank my hon. Friend for his question, as I know that in general much good work is happening in Yorkshire.

Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): Is the Minister aware that there has been a considerable number of ASBO breaches in my borough of Bexley? Residents have worked hard with the police and the community safety partnerships, but the breaches undermine the credibility of ASBOs, so what further reassurance can the Minister give my constituents who suffer increasing antisocial behaviour in our area?

Mr. McNulty: I congratulate all in the London borough of Bexley, including the hon. Gentleman, who take the matter seriously. I take the point that when there is a breach it can undermine much of the work that communities have put in, but the hon. Gentleman, and the people of Bexley who are working so hard on the matter, should be under no illusion that when there are breaches and people persist in not taking the help and support afforded by antisocial behaviour interventions, and when a minority insist on damaging the cohesion of our communities in Bexley and elsewhere, they will be dealt with swiftly.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that across the country more and more community safety partnerships are getting better at obtaining and enforcing ASBOs? Should not the message from the House be that if people behave at an acceptable standard there will be no action in court, but that if they misbehave there is the certainty of consequences?

Mr. McNulty: That is absolutely right; I thank my hon. Friend. We also need to say clearly that, overwhelmingly, we are talking about only a minority of people in each of our communities—not about criminalising an entire generation through ASBOs, as it is sometimes erroneously put by commentators, or about ignoring antisocial behaviour. My hon. Friend is right: across the country, through crime reduction partnerships and community safety partnerships more and more communities are dealing both with the causes of antisocial behaviour and the support necessary to challenge them, as well as obtaining effective intervention that firmly gets people who would indulge in antisocial behaviour to desist.

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James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): Since ASBOs were introduced the failure rate has spiralled year after year. The National Audit Office report states that well over half of all orders are being broken, and in County Durham 74 per cent. of ASBOs are being breached. Recently, when the Government’s respect tsar, Louise Casey, responded to questioning from the Public Accounts Committee on the NAO findings, she was unable to confirm that a formal qualitative assessment of the use of the orders was being undertaken. When will Ministers publish a detailed evaluation of the use of ASBOs? Does the breach rate have to hit 80, 90 or even 100 per cent. before that information is made available?

Mr. McNulty: Again, that question is not terribly helpful in terms of the discussion. If the hon. Gentleman wanted to quote the NAO report in full, he could have gone on to say that in terms of the whole continuum of interventions we have been talking about it showed clearly that about 65 per cent. of people desisted from antisocial behaviour after one intervention and 85 per cent. desisted after two. A whopping 93 per cent. of people desisted from antisocial behaviour after further intervention. In answer to the original question, I said that there had been authoritative responses and effective evaluations from both the Youth Justice Board and the NAO and before that there was a substantive report from Campbell, who I think was the key author. In March or April we will say in more detail how we want to build on the evaluation of the effectiveness of ASBOs, based on the Campbell report and what the NAO and the Youth Justice Board have said.

In the middle of the hon. Gentleman’s rather erroneous question, there was an entirely fair point about evaluation. As I said, in March or April we will announce how to take things forward, building on Campbell, the Youth Justice Board and the NAO report.

Neighbourhood Policing

6. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): How many additional (a) police officers and (b) community support officers are being provided under the new neighbourhood policing arrangements. [121295]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): The composition of neighbourhood policing teams is an operational matter for the chief constable. Forces are making good progress towards recruiting 16,000 police and community support officers for neighbourhood policing by April 2007. The Home Office is spending more than £220 million in specific grants this year in support of PCSOs. That will increase by 41 per cent., to £315 million, in 2007-08.

The capacity of the police service remains at an all-time high. The latest available figures show that there are more than 14,000 more police officers than in March 1997.

Mr. Blizzard: The whole House will be aware of the huge challenge faced by Suffolk police as a result of the horrible events around Ipswich towards the end of last year. I hope that you will permit me, Mr. Speaker, to pay tribute to the tremendous work of Suffolk police in the course of their investigations.

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Notwithstanding those horrible murders, is my hon. Friend aware that between April and December last year, overall crime in Suffolk reduced by a further 3 per cent? Will he confirm that, under the new neighbourhood policing arrangements, Suffolk can expect substantial increases in the number of community police officers and police community support officers from April to help us reduce crime even further?

Mr. Coaker: I thank my hon. Friend for his question and join him in congratulating Suffolk police and all the police forces that joined the investigation into the horrific murders in Suffolk recently. As he says, crime in Suffolk has fallen by 3 per cent., according to the latest figures. By April 2007, 142 police community support officers will be available to Suffolk police to tackle antisocial behaviour and other criminal activity in the area; those PCSOs are in addition to the 140 more police officers that there have been since 1997. There are more police staff and record numbers of police officers there.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): In Northamptonshire, PCSO numbers are increasing while the number of police constables is being reduced. Is it Government policy to replace police constables with PCSOs?

Mr. Coaker: That is certainly not Government policy, but it is Government policy to allow police authorities, with chief constables, to make the best operational decisions for their areas. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that following the recent funding announcements, the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers welcomed the additional local decision making and flexibility that we are making available to them. I thought that the Conservative party was in favour of local decision making; we certainly are.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I am sure that the Minister is a regular reader of The Birmingham Post, a very fine paper. Just in case he has not got round to reading today’s edition, I should tell him that the local police community support officers have asked for more powers. The West Midlands police force grants support officers only 19 of the 56 available powers. Will the Minister have a word with chief constables to say that if community support officers want more powers, they should be given them?

Mr. Coaker: It is obvious that I shall have to read The Birmingham Post before questions, as well as the other things. Police community support officers make a fantastic contribution to tackling antisocial behaviour in their areas. I say to my hon. Friend that consultation is taking place on what those officers’ standard list of powers should be. We expect to publish on that in due course. Alongside that, there will be flexible powers that chief constables can use, and, should they wish to, give to police community support officers as well.

Police Funding

7. Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): What recent representations he has received on the funding of police forces. [121296]

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The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Mr. Tony McNulty): Since the debate on the police grant report for 2007-08 on 31 January, I have held meetings with a number of chief constables, police authorities and hon. Members specifically on the funding of police forces. I think that, during the course of the same debate, I made a number of commitments to continue to do so.

Mr. Harper: I thank the Minister for that reply. He will know that over the last two years my local police force has seen a reduction in real terms of £681,000 in the specific security grant. With Fairford air base, GCHQ and a number of significant royal household protection duties, the specific security grant is a bigger share of Gloucestershire’s spending than that of any force outside the Metropolitan police. What will the Minister do to ensure that my constituents do not bear an increasing share of what should be national responsibilities?

Mr. McNulty: I am not sure that I entirely agree with the latter point, but I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and the chief constable of Gloucestershire to discuss the matter further. I take the hon. Gentleman’s broad point about Gloucestershire having specific security responsibilities that are probably larger than those of many other police forces outside the Met, so I would be happy to meet him to discuss the issue further.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Slough basic command unit is in a crime family along with other units, all in the Metropolitan police area, that have many more police officers per head of population than Slough. Will the Minister comment on the fact that I have been informed by our local commander that, according to the total resource allocations formula, we are overmanned? Does that not suggest that the TRAF is actually wrong when it comes to high crime areas such as Slough?

Mr. McNulty: My hon. Friend was one of the individual Members whom I promised to meet, following on from the debate on the police grant, and I am happy to discuss at such a meeting the TRAF and Slough BCU overstaffing—or otherwise—along with other matters relating to Thames Valley policing. [Interruption.] Yes, I am aware that the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) is to be included in the meeting—sadly.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): During the debate on the police grant, the Minister mentioned quite candidly that he believed that there was a case for a review of the whole police funding formula. I know that it is a huge issue, but when does the Minister believe that that work can commence? Does he believe that as a part of that work, it might be useful to set up a Special Standing Committee to take as much evidence as possible, which could help to produce a lasting, fair and equable funding formula?

Mr. McNulty: I deliberately wanted to open up a wide-ranging debate on the issue, as I said in the debate on the police grant report, but I also want to get something done and to make sure that any changes that need to be made are for the better. I am not sure that Special Standing Committees have ever done that.

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Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): When the Minister reviews the process, will he ensure that civil servants are entirely aware of the fact that he has no intention of devolving the funding of police forces in Wales to the Welsh Assembly, not least because crimes do not always happen just in Wales or in England, but quite often across England and Wales, as the recent letter bombing campaign has shown?

Mr. McNulty: I am strongly of the opinion that what my hon. Friend says is absolutely right, so I entirely endorse it. By the by, I had a very enjoyable time in Swansea and Bridgend last week, when this point was raised. On balance, people felt that there was a strong inter-relationship between what the Welsh Assembly Government do on policing and what the UK Government do on policing. Of course that is right, but it is certainly not our intention to devolve all or part of our policing powers to the Welsh Assembly.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): The Minister will no doubt be aware that the first anti-terrorist unit to be established outside the Metropolitan police was in Greater Manchester police, but he is probably not aware that it was funded entirely by Manchester ratepayers’ money. Will the Minister tell me why that was and can he assure me that other local anti-terrorist units will not have to depend on local money in the battle against national and international terrorism?

Mr. McNulty: What the hon. Gentleman says is certainly true, in part, in respect of the very early days of the establishment of the counter-terrorism unit in Manchester. I am sure that he will agree that Greater Manchester, West Midlands and West Yorkshire police are making varying degrees of progress in establishing their counter-terrorism units—if he has not had the chance to go around them, he should—but that they are doing work that is second to none and vital, given the pressures and threat that we face. Much of the funding will be carried out in the long term by the Association of Chief Police Officers terrorism and allied matters committee, which is doing much of the work now. It is a matter for local police authorities if they want to augment and supplement that with local money, specific to local counter-terrorism demands. But in the main, we are very strongly of the opinion that, through ACPO TAM, the frameworks at least should be funded from the centre. That is the right and proper way to go forward.

Asylum Seekers

8. Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): How many failed asylum seekers in England and Wales have exhausted all avenues of appeal; and if he will make a statement. [121297]

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): Throughout the first three quarters of 2006, more failed asylum seekers were removed than the number of unmeritorious claims made. Figures for the entire year will be published shortly.

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