Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600
TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2007
QC, MR VERNON
COAKER MP, MS
CBE, MS URSULA
Q600 Martin Salter: Just to give
you a break, Patricia, my first question is to Vernon. We are
all aware, and the Home Office is particularly aware, of the link
between drugs and crime. We are also aware of problems with the
rehabilitation programmes that are rolled out. I want to quote
to you some evidence that we were given from Camila Batmanghelidjh,
with whom I know you are familiar. "Drugs play a very major
part. We cannot access rehabs for young people; and there are
a lot of young people who want to give up drugs but it takes about
nine weeks before a drugs worker is allocated; and most of the
rehabs that are out there cannot cope with this aggressive client.
The rehab model is based on a middle class talking-shop model,
and these kids cannot control themselves very well so when they
have an outburst in withdrawal in rehab they get chucked out."
I raised this issue personally with the Prime Minister, and your
predecessor I remember was sent delegations on the issue. Is not
one of the causes behind some of the explosion in drugs crime
we have that there is still a consistent failure to make a seamless
transition from the court to the rehab unit without these unacceptable
Mr Coaker: This is a very important
point that you make about the evil role that drugs play in many
communities across the country. Could I explain that there is
a number of elements to the whole purpose of the Government's
drugs strategy. It does answer your question, if I can broadly
draw the strategy. First of all, any part of a drugs strategy
from the Government's point of view has to involve tough law enforcement.
There has to be a clear set of rules which the police rigorously
enforce, and that is one aspect of it. The second aspect of it
is obviously education and ensuring that our young people and
others are educated about drugs and the harm that drugs cause.
The third element of course is the element to do with treatment.
We would say, and quite rightly, that we can point to figures
which show an explosion in the numbers of people that we have
now entering treatment as a result of the drugs strategy. Many
of those people access it, as you know, through the drugs intervention
programme and tests either on arrest or charge. We get those people
into treatment. We are also, alongside that, working with our
colleagues in health to try to ensure that the criminal justice
route is not the only route by which people can access treatment.
Obviously we want that. We are looking at what we can do to increase
the number of people accessing treatment through health, and also
making sure that people have the information with respect to self-referral.
Of course, once people are in treatment, by whichever route they
have got into that treatment, the key then and the task for the
drugs strategy now is to ensure that we keep those people in treatment
when they come out, whether they are in treatment or in detox
or in rehab. That requires a step change in what we are doing
and what we are looking to do in terms of what that means not
only for treatment in terms of heath but in terms of housing,
benefits, self-esteem, employment and family relationships, all
of those sorts of things. If we get that right, then of course
we break that cycle of desperation and hopelessness. What we need
to work on is this situation. I meet people across the country,
say in Liverpool or Burton (Mrs Dean's constituency), and what
they are concerned about when they are in rehab is what will happen
to them when they leave. We have to ensure that when we have people
in treatment we develop all those processes and programmes to
break the link between offending and drug addiction for somebody
who is not able to lead a full and proper life in their addiction.
Q601 Martin Salter: When will we
see that step change and how will this benefit policy?
Mr Coaker: We would say that there
has been a significant step change already: a huge increase in
investment in the drugs programme, massive increases in the numbers
of people going into treatment, and, alongside that, the development
of services with respect to rehabilitation and other things. We
need to ensure that whether you are in Newcastle, Cardiff, Plymouth,
Reading or London, or wherever you are across the country, that
access to those services is available to everyone and is not post-coded.
Looking at it, we find there is some variation, and that is part
of the work we are doing at the present time to refresh and to
look at our drugs strategy again because we know, having got these
people into treatment, that the next step is about ensuring that
that treatment is even more effective.
Q602 Martin Salter: To follow up,
and this may be more appropriate for Patricia, the Home Office
submission to us states that young black people make up 3% of
the youth population but 10% of those arrested for drugs offences.
You have also done some of your own research regarding the disproportionate
number of young black people represented in figures amongst those
arrested for robbery. Having got these figures, having done this
research, what conclusions have you come to and what are you proposing
to do about it?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: One
of the things that we are really looking at is how we can stop
these incidents continuing to occur. For instance, if you look
at the programmes that we put in on offender management, the fact
that we are looking at the seven pathways, we are working to identify,
particularly in relation to young people with the young offender
teams, the sorts of programmes that really work, the intensive
supervision programmes, but we are also trying better to understand
what other things are fed into that type of behaviour. It has
been very interesting to see how, in various parts of the country,
we have been able to put forward programmes which actually do
appear to make a difference. What we are trying to do is to pull
all that intelligence together because in many of these programmes,
if you are able to put in a programme which has a number of core
criteria, you can interdict that. That is what is starting to
happen now. It really needs us to do this in a more comprehensive
way. One of our aspirations for having offender management which
is end-to-end is being able to target these issues in a much more
creative and effective way than we have been able to do in the
Q603 Chairman: Could I push you slightly?
One of the things that has perplexed me and the Committee, and
I am not sure we have had a coherent explanation, is that the
patterns of offending amongst young black people are different
to the patterns of offending of young white people. Young black
people are much more likely to be involved in public disorder
and burglaries, disproportionately so. Young black people who
have drugs are more likely to commit robbery offences. Has the
Home Office come up with a convincing explanation for why you
get those differences of pattern of offending?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Firstly,
I do not think anyone has come up with a satisfactory explanation
as to why we get those patterns of behaviour. One of the things
that we know is that we are only going to come up with what works
by working fairly aggressively and very differently with the different
agencies and with the community so that we can get to grips with
this. If there was, for instance, from this Committee an understanding
as to what the silver bullet is, I can honestly tell you we would
grasp that with huge acclaim, but we know that the thing that
seems to be working is the joint working across the agencies,
including the young people, working together with the community
to make that difference. That is what we are trying to do, to
try and understand better why the communities are functioning
in slightly different ways. I said earlier in response to your
question that we even have regional variations. There are ways
of offending that happen in the north and in the Midlands which
are significantly different from the patterns of behaviour that
are happening in London. We have to look at those regional and
cultural variations and try to better understand those if we are
to make the difference.
Q604 Mrs Dean: The Home Secretary
has said he is considering gang membership an aggravating factor
in sentencing but witnesses to this Committee have suggested that
whilst gangs are a serious issue, this is often exaggerated and
often groups referred to as gangs are nothing more than a group
of friends. Is it really practical or appropriate to legislate
against so-called gang membership, given the acute difficulties
in defining these groups?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: In
some ways you can. I need to emphasise that this is an issue that
we are looking at. It is really important for us to understand
what contribution gangs make and is it going to be an effective
thing to do to identify it as an aggravating factor. There is
no decision at the moment as to whether you should legislate on
it. You know that we have the Sentencing Guidelines Council. We
have a whole set of tools. What is important, and I think this
Committee is emphasising this, is that we should not shy away
from looking at that as an issue and looking at it as a reality
of what is happening in the lives of a number of young people
now. It is the looking at it which is important for us to better
understand it and then to respond to see what we should do about
Mr Coaker: This is very much part
of what the Chairman was saying about the need not to shy away
from difficult issues. There clearly is an issue, increasingly
it seems anecdotally from when you go to communities and talk
to the police, about gangs becoming more organised and people
having more concern about what the gang thinks than society's
values and the community's values. We need to try to find out
what is going on in respect to that and what we mean. We have
seen the various definitions, from a group of friends to street
gangs to organised criminals, and all those sorts of differences
in terminology. We need better to try to understand how that impacts
on crime and disportionality. It is something we are looking at.
Whether it is a good thing to do or not is something for the future.
We should not shy away from it. The real concern that I am sure
communities have told the Committee and have certainly us is the
worry about the increasing loyalty that people feel to a gang,
based on territory, based on other things. We need better to understand
that and see how we can support not only the police but communities
in trying to address that problem and reasserting society's values
and the common values. Could I add one aside that I think is important.
From reading the evidence, people have spoken about role models.
The positive role models are absolutely right. That may be the
focus of a question later. May I also say that part of tackling
gangs and tackling this problem in communitiesI know my
fellow Minister believes this as wellis about needing to
do something about the negative role models, the people in their
communities who are clearly living beyond their means. People
are asking why something is not being done about that. We can
take away assets from the proceeds of crime. The police and the
courts are working hard on that. We are trying to redouble our
efforts on that. We need to do more on that issue so that these
people do not get kudos, do not get a sense of people looking
up to them from making money illegally and living beyond their
legitimate means. We need to do more on that.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: If
you listen to what parents in all communities are telling us,
and I think you have heard a number of adults from the black community,
they are particularly concerned about how they feel their young
people are almost being seduced away from their way of living
into this alternative culture. It is as if it is a cult and they
want to get them back out. We have to listen to that, address
it and work with it. If we do not listen to what people are telling
us, we are not really going to find a way out of some of the difficulties
that we are all facing now.
Q605 Mr Benyon: Minister, have you
attempted to try to find a form of words that might work in the
legislation that would define a gang as opposed to the evidence
that we have heard that it is very difficult, because there are
large numbers of groups of people that hang around street corners
that many people consider to be gangs, but they are just simply
groups of friends hanging around on street corners?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Vernon
has been doing a lot of work on the whole issue of gangs and how
we take that forward. A definition is going to be of real importance.
There is a Serious Organised Crime Bill going through now. We
are looking at what serious crime is. There is a whole raft of
things that we are now looking at in terms of the Hallsworth and
Young definition which identifies three levels of groups. There
is a way forward on this.
Mr Coaker: We use the definition
of Hallsworth and Young, which defines these three levels that
I was talking about before. There is the peer group, which is
just people who congregate together, of mixed ethnicity, with
shared leisure choices, the sort of thing that we all recognise,
the group of friends like that of my son or daughter or your children
or grandchildren. That is clearly not a gang but it is a group.
They define that. Then there is what we often call a street gang
where you start getting into territory and identity. These people
may carry and use weapons, including firearms and knifes. The
issue about the street gang element of this three level definition
that Hallsworth and Young use and the police use as well is that
it is becoming more associated with criminality. Frankly, it is
becoming more violent, more distant from the values of the community
in which they live, with almost a separate entity, as Patricia
was saying. Then there is the organised criminal network. It may
be wrong, but I think the area where people are particularly concerned
is the street gang and what is happening with respect to street
gangs. On Mrs Dean's question about whether membership of a gang
should be an aggravating factor, we know that street gangs are
becoming more organised and more violent. Can we come up with
a definition that's workable, commands a consensus and will help
us? The answer is that that is work to be done. I do not think
we should rule it out. We cannot say: yes, this will happen. The
Hallsworth and Young definition at the moment is a generally accepted
definition that is being used.
Chairman: That is very helpful.
They have submitted their work in evidence to us drawing on similar
Q606 Mr Winnick: On gun crime, to
some extent leading on from some of the earlier questions put
to you by the Chair, do you accept that there is a particular
problem affecting the black community? Let me be more specific:
young black people, the subject of our inquiry, but particularly
young males as opposed to females. There does not seem to be a
particular problem with young black females. Does the Home Office
accept that there is a particular problem involving gun crime
amongst young black males?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We
accept that there is a terrible, regrettable and increasing problem
on the issue of the use of guns. It is something that we are radically
trying to address. What we have not had any evidence of to date
is that this issue is either solely, mainly or disproportionately
an issue for black young men. We know that there are more black
victims of gun crime than white, but there is no current data
to indicate that this issue of guns is specifically a black as
opposed to a generally criminal issue.
Q607 Mr Winnick: Lady Scotland, I
wonder if I could just give you a few quotes from Lee Jasper,
the adviser on race matters to the Mayor of London. I quote what
he told us in this inquiry. "We have, quite literally, a
crisis in the black community amongst our young, black people".
A black pastor who gave evidence to us said as follows about our
inquiry: "My gut feeling was `about time' and the feeling
that it has been overlooked, undermined, underplayed and has not
been given the effective attention it needs. I suppose in local
communities it is more obvious. The dream had been that the centre
would pick it up and do something". Finally, the Deputy Assistant
Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police said: "... there
is a huge overrepresentation of young black people, both as suspects
accused, and, indeed, as victims," as you have just said.
Surely that demonstrates, does it not, that there is a crisis
from the quotes that I have given and that perhaps there is a
certain amount of complacency on the part of the Home Office?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: There
is absolutely no complacency on the part of the Home Office. If
you look at the actions that we have taken to address this issue,
both from the police and the community, I am sure Lee Jasper and
the members of his committee will have told you about the community
response and the action the Metropolitan Police are taking to
address this issue together with the Home Office, so there is
certainly no complacency. The other issue that I would invite
the Committee's attention to is that of course those who have
given evidence have done so about the situation in relation to
London. The areas in which this activity is occurring have a number
of features which are similar to other areas where similar activity
is occurring, but the complexion or composition of the communities
differs. If one were to look at the situation across the country
as opposed to those conurbations that may have an overrepresentation
of black young men who are within the age range and in the sorts
of communities where this is featuring, one would see that there
is a correlation between those two. Therefore, I am not for a
moment moving away from the point that this is a real issue certainly
amongst those and a real issue for London. Then to do the quantum
leap, which I must say to the Committee I think is quite dangerous,
and to say that this is solely or predominantly a black issue
as opposed to a general issue in relation to guns would be a profound
Q608 Mr Winnick: Lady Scotland, what
concerns many of us is the phrase used by the police and I am
not criticising the police, black-on-black. I am not suggesting
the police are doing this but there is a sort of feeling that
it only really involves the black community; the victims are mainly
black as a result of the gun crimes against them and so on. Therefore,
and I am not suggesting the police are saying what I am now going
to say, there is a general feeling that it does not involve the
wider community and the victims are black. There is no doubt that
in nearly all cases, the large majority of cases, would you agree,
where violence has been used by blacks, the victims have been
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I
think there have been a number. Can I say that I agree with you
that to talk about black-on-black violence is wholly unacceptable,
not least because the majority of offences are of course committed
generallyand I am not talking about gun crimeby
white people on white people and nobody calls it white-on-white
violence. So I think it is very regrettable, verging on the offensive,
to talk about it in those terms. Also, it has to be absolutely
understood that if an offence peculiarly affects the black and
minority ethnic community, that does not mean that it should deserve
a lesser degree of attention. The Home Office would not give it
so. We want a criminal justice system which is equal and fair
to all, irrespective of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation
or faith. If we do not have a system which delivers that, then
it is not a system which can truly be called fair. If the Committee
has an anxiety about that issue, can I say very profoundly that
we share it. This is not a black issue. It is a general issue
of concern which needs to be addressed wherever it arises.
Q609 Mr Winnick: I certainly agree
with you of course on the phrase black-on-black, a phrase which
I would never use. I am quoting here. One would hope the police
would not because obviously it minimises the suffering and terrible
hurt it causes to those who are the victims of crime, regardless
of the colour of their skin. Can I put to you bluntly, Lady Scotland.
You said there is a danger of pursuing the inquiry in certain
ways, or words to that effect. Do you think, and I am going to
put the question as bluntly as possible, that it is racist to
look into the possibility that a lot of the gun crime involves
young blacks, not older blacks or female blacks, under the age
of 21 than otherwise. Do you think there is a sort of racist possibility
or rather that it can be seen in that light by probing the amount
of gun crime involving young black offenders?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I
think that it is really important not to conflate the two issues.
There are issues in relation to proportionality and how black
and minority ethnic people are participating within the criminal
justice system. It is important for us to understand why that
is and for that exploration to be rigorous. Therefore, I really
welcome the highlight which this Committee has given to that issue.
It is unfortunate to conflate the two issues in relation to gun
crime and disproportionality. The reason I say that is because,
just as with knives and with gangs, those are issues which tragically
impinge on all of the communities. I would certainly be very anxious
that the work that this Committee is doing should not be misunderstood
and used in a way which I think nobody on this Committee would
like. Certainly the issue in relation to gun crime and all its
manifestations and how it affects all communities should be looked
and looked at rigorously.
Q610 Mr Winnick: The witnesses who
appeared before us who happen to be black do not seem in any way
to have misunderstood our inquiry, and indeed have welcomed it.
I hope that is the reaction at the Home Office. Can I ask you
this regarding the question of gun crime and sentencing. The Home
Secretary has very recently announced his intention to lay a parliamentary
audit to ensure that 18 to 20 year olds are subject to a minimum
of five-year sentences for possession of a prohibited firearm.
At the moment, and obviously you are the Minister and you know,
it only applies to 21 and over. Why did the Government not lay
such an order earlier when Parliament voted for a five-year sentence
in 2003, it voted for it being applicable to those aged 18 and
over? Why the delay?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I
think there was a lacuna. In the way in which the law worked,
it was believed that those individuals would be covered. As a
result of a recent court decision in Campbell, it identified
that the court took the view that those individuals within that
age group were not covered. As a result, it has been necessary
to lay an order but, before Campbell, the way in which
the provisions had been interpreted was that individuals who fell
into that age group would be caught. We have identified, as a
result of Campbell, that they are not caught. Obviously
we are seeking to remedy it. You are absolutely right that Parliament
clearly intended that they should be covered. This simply seems
to have been an issue which was not addressed in a way that enabled
that to occur. By virtue of laying the order, we are seeking to
fill that gap.
Q611 Mr Winnick: Had many convictions
actually taken place for those 21 and over who had been found
guilty of possession of a prohibited firearm?
Mr Coaker: I understand there
have been but we do not know the number. If it would be helpful,
we could write to the Committee with that information.
Q612 Chairman: When was the Campbell
Mr Coaker: It was about a year
Q613 Chairman: Can I ask why it was
not until the recent shootings took place that the Government
decided to announce that it was going to reinstate the position
that Parliament thought it had voted for? Why did it take a year?
Mr King: We were considering what
the best response would be. It was considered that it might be
appropriate to appeal against a different judgment in a different
case. I think what has happened recently is that we have made
a decision that the quickest way to ensure that 18 to 20 years
olds are caught is to lay an order. It has just been a process
of considering what the best response would be.
Q614 Mr Winnick: Has the order been
Mr Coaker: No, it has not.
Q615 Mr Winnick: When is it going
to be laid?
Mr Coaker: We anticipate it will
be done by June.
Q616 Chairman: In hindsight, it might
have been better to have moved more quickly after the Campbell
Mr King: Yes.
Q617 Mr Winnick: It will be done
before the summer recess?
Mr King: Yes, it will be in force
by the summer, so it will be laid shortly.
Q618 Mr Browne: Baroness Scotland,
may I start by saying that I did not hear a single Member of the
Committee say that the increase in gun crime was solely attributable
to black people. You were the only person who made that claim,
as far as I can recall. I would not wish anybody to infer that
that was the view of either myself or of any other Member of the
Committee that I am aware of. You also said that there was no
evidence at all in the Home Office either to support or refute
the assertion that black people are disproportionately responsible
for gun crime. Is it your intention to undertake that research
and when might we know? At the moment there seems to be a lot
of listening and understanding but there does not appear to be
very much concrete action.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: One
of the things that you know we have done is to better engage in
terms of getting the datasets. We did not have the sort of data
that would enable us to make critical and informed choices. If
you look at how we changed the way we collate data, the investment
you have seen here and through the changes, and we have spent
about £2 billion on that, we are hoping to get real time
data which we would be able to use as a management tool for the
criminal justice system generally.
Q619 Mr Browne: The ethnicity of
people who are convicted of firearm offences is not recorded by
the Home Office. Is that what you are saying?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I
think the ethnicity of those who offend is increasingly recorded
to enable us to better understand the shifts in population and
the nature of offending.
1 See Ev 398 Back