Examination of Witnesses (Questions 620
TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2007
QC, MR VERNON
COAKER MP, MS
CBE, MS URSULA
Q620 Mr Browne: So you can actually
measure whether there is a disproportionately large or disproportionately
small amount of gun crime perpetrated by black people or white
people, or neither?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We
will be able in the future to know that with a greater degree
of precision through C-NOMIS, Ursula Brennan has been dealing
with some of that.
Q621 Mr Browne: To be clear, you
said that at the moment you have no way of knowing that at all.
In your earlier comments you said you have no way of knowing.
In fact, it might be solely attributable to one ethnicity.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: No,
that is certainly not what I said. I said that the data we currently
have that we have collected does not indicate a bias towards one
ethnic group or another. At the moment, there is not information
which would say that this is more of an issue for the black and
minority ethnic community than in relation to white. That information
is going to continue to be collated. We will be reviewing it.
I think what was being put to me by the Chairman was that this
was a significant issue in the black community with black young
men. What I was responding to is: I understand that may have been
said, I understand that it may have been said in relation to London.
I understand that that was information the Committee had been
given. But if you look across the country, the figures across
the country that we are getting, we have no data which would verify
that this is more an issue for the BME community than it is for
any other community. That is what I am saying.
Q622 Chairman: Minister, if I could
follow up Mr Browne's questions and it is really quite central
to some parts, what further data are you able to share with us
at this stage? We have found in this inquiry that often the Home
Office says, "We have no data" and we have had data
from the Metropolitan Police or other major police forces which
have tended to show something different from what the Home Office
is saying. I am not sure whether the position is that the Home
Office has data that counters that information or just because
the Home Office has no data, it is saying you have nothing to
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We
have data, as I have told you, which indicates that there are
a large number of victims who are black. The data that we do have
does not indicate that a great number of the perpetrators are
black. For instance, we have crimes recorded by the police in
which weapons, including air weaponsso it is not just bulletswere
reported to have been fired and caused fatal or serious or slight
injury in England and Wales. There were 25 Black or Black British
fatal inquiry victims for these crimes in 2004-05 and 19 in 2005-06.
So we can tell you about the victims, that there are more black
victims, but we have no indication across the country data which
tells us that the perpetrators are more likely to be black than
Q623 Chairman: I am grateful for
that. The Committee would welcome receiving whatever information
you can give us.
I have a further question which is simply this. Would you be confident,
Minister, that bringing together gun crime involving guns that
fire bullets with air pistols in one category is a satisfactory
category of crime for analysing this problem?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I
think we have to look at all gun crime. Unfortunately, they are
coming now in different species. We are looking at how to do that.
Q624 Chairman: That is to separate
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: It
is to better understand them. You have air weapons of course,
which are used in one way, quite often used by young people inappropriately,
and you have other guns, which tend to be used in more serious
forms of criminal activity.
Q625 Mr Browne: I was going to ask
about the five-year minimum mandatory sentence for firearms. As
I understand it, and correct me if I am wrong, recorded firearm
offences have approximately doubled in the last decade and this
is one of the responses that the Government is attaching particular
significance to. Does the Home Office believe that the five-year
minimum mandatory sentence is having a big impact, what impact
does the Home Office anticipate it will have in terms of reducing
firearms offences, and particularly whether it will have the effect
of encouraging children below the minimum age for the minimum
mandatory sentence to apply to carry firearms rather than young
Mr Coaker: It is fair to say that
we all recognise that there has been, as you say, a more than
doubling of firearms offences in the last eight or nine years.
This is relevant in answering Mr Browne's question. If you look
at the most recent figures, there was a levelling off between
2004 to 2005 and 2005 to 2006 where there was only an increase
of 0.1%. The latest figure that we have is that there is a 14%
fall in total firearms offences in the 12 months to September
2006. The relevance of me quoting the latest statistics, the levelling
off in the rise and then the reduction in firearms offences, is
that of course they come after the introduction of the minimum
five-year sentence. I am being frank with the Committee because
exchanges need to be frank just to move forward, which is what
we all want. I do not have the evidence for that. All I am saying
is that in 2004 the minimum legislation came in and then we have
started to see a reduction in firearms offences. Clearly, that
is not the only reason. There has been a lot of other policing
activity and community activity, et cetera. That is one perhaps
possible point that could be made. With respect to the other points
Mr Browne made, it might be helpful to the Committee, because
people read this, to say that the current sentencing position
as we know is that if we talk about younger children, we are clarifying
the position with respect to 18 to 21 year olds, in answer to
Mr Winnick's question. The order will be laid to clarify that
situation. For 16 and 17 year olds, the current legislation is
a minimum of three years' detention with a maximum of 10 years.
For 10 to 15 year olds, the current sentencing position is that
there is no minimum sentence but there is a maximum sentence of
10 years. Young people below the age of 15 can currently, should
the court choose to do so, taking into account all the circumstances,
impose quite a serous sentence on those young people for a possession
offence. The point was made about whether the reduction of the
minimum age, clarification of that to 18 and consideration of
it being younger, will drive younger offenders down. I think Cressida
Dick, the Deputy Assistant Commissioner, made the point that the
Metropolitan Police, as well as other police forces, are worried
about younger people becoming involved. Again, it is something
we have to do in terms of reviewing the legislation as to whether
more needs to be done with respect to that. I would also point
out that there will be a new law which comes into effect in April,
next month, from the Violent Crime Reduction Act, which will make
it an offence to mind a weapon for somebody. So we think that
may help as well with respect to the younger age group, who, again
anecdotally, we understand are being used more as minders and
carriers of weapons, which my barrister friend will tell you,
there is clearly a difference between possession and minding.
But we are already taking action, and in order to address the
problem that you raised, Mr Browne, it may be that the minding
offence will help because obviously that is applicable to younger
people and it is already something that will become law next month.
Q626 Mr Browne: As you have just
mentioned, Mr Coaker, we had Cressida Dick, from the Metropolitan
Police, in front of the Committee a couple of weeks ago and she
saidand I quote"The introduction of the five-year
mandatory sentence has led to fewer five-year mandatory sentences
being applied than we had expected." It is a bit like life
sentences, mandatory has a different meaning from the dictionary
as it applies in the Home Office. Mandatory does not, as one might
expect, mean that it applies in every case. As I understand it,
five-year minimum mandatory sentences for the possession of an
illegal firearm have been applied in 40% of cases; the majority
of people appear not to have received the mandatory sentence.
Can you confirm that that is the case and is the Prime Minister's
gun summit at Number 10 going to increase this figure or is it
completely irrelevant and a one-day wonder?
Mr Coaker: I read the evidence
that the Deputy Assistant Commissioner gave and I have no reason
to believe that that is not accurate. I think the legislation
does say that there is a minimum mandatory sentence, but there
are exceptional circumstances which the court can take into account.
We announced, as a result of the Prime Minister's summit, and
indeed the round-table that we have had subsequent to that where
we have involved large numbers of community groups, the police
and others working in this area, that we are looking at all of
the legislation with respect to gun crime, to see whether there
are changes that need to be made, and part of that review will
obviously be looking at all of this.
Q627 Mr Browne: But Minister is there
not a slight fraud being perpetrated on the public, that they
see on the news and on the television all of these people going
into Number 10 Downing Street, specially invited to have a summit
on cutting gun crime, and there are big headlines in the newspapers
saying that there will be a five-year mandatory sentence. I think
most people, if you stopped them, would assume that that meant
if you were caught walking down the street with a firearm concealed
on you, and you were caught by the police, you would go to prison
for five years. Yet what we find is that the exceptional circumstances
are not the exception, they are the norm; the exception is the
mandatory sentence actually applies. We can have an argument about
whether that is good policy or just bi-captured initiative, but
at the moment people are being told that one thing is happening
and actually the reality is quite the opposite.
Mr Coaker: Obviously the court
will make judgments on that and that is why we are reviewing the
legislation as well, to see whether more needs to be done. I have
to say, however, that I do not think following the terrible events
of the last few weeks that people would see the summit as a fraud;
I think people would want to see the Government looking at what
is happening and doing, as this Committee is doing, trying to
understand how the legislation impacts on all of this; what more
needs to be done with respect to communities; how we involve communities
more in what is happening; what is effective and what is not effective,
and that is what was done at the summit. A series of actions came
out from that and I think that is what the public would expect.
What they would also expect is to see, as you rightly say, that
that is not just something that occurred then and that is why
we have a round-table at the Home Office, which the Home Secretary
chairs, which draws in all of those people, and that is why we
have set up an action plan to take all of this forward, to ensure
that not only have we been doing good work, which we have been,
but that we carry that on and we look at what we are doing to
see if it is as effective as it can be.
Q628 Chairman: Can I just say, Ministers,
that I am more responsible than anybody else for the fact that
we have made relatively slow progress this morning, but I am going
to be a bit more disciplined and I am going to ask Members of
the Committee and Ministers as well if we can give shorter answers
and questions. It is my fault that we have only got to where we
have. Bob Russell.
Q629 Bob Russell: Lady Scotland,
our inquiry has shown today, as confirmed, that the Home Office
has a lot of statistics and data but in the jigsaw of life not
all the pieces are available. Is it correct that the Home Office
currently does not collect data on the ages of suspects involved
in firearms offences?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I
think we are able to collect ages now in terms of the new system
we have put in place. One of the problems that you will understand,
Mr Russell, is that in order to make those statistics stack up
we have had to go back and look at all the data. So it is very
difficult at the moment to say that we would be able to give an
age profile of those who currently offend. We also have, of course,
a different system in the adult estate than we have in the juvenile
estate; the juvenile estate collates their data differently. So
what we are trying to do now in building the data, and the C-NOMIS
is the adult, ASSETis the approach used by the juvenile
estate and we are trying to put those two together so that in
the future we will be able to have those figures accurately and
more precisely understood.
Q630 Bob Russell: So the age data
is now being collected. When did that commence?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: It
is collected in terms of the information that is being put in
is the name, age, offence with which the individual is charged.
So in the future I would hope that that information would be capable
of being disaggregated in a way that we would be able to use it
as a management tool. One of the things we have had in the past
is that we have collated data but that data has not been very
easy to disaggregate so that you can use it to help you understand
what is happening in the criminal justice system. The new system
should enable us to do that.
Q631 Bob Russell: So to a certain
extent you are making decisions without the historic datayou
are now collecting it but you do not have the historic data?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We
have incomplete data; that is one of the problems. So the juvenile
estate will tell us, of course, the figures in relation to what
is happening there. Some of the juveniles, of course, will be
in the adult estate and some will be in the juvenile estate. Ursula
might want to comment further on that, as to how we are trying
to merge these two together.
Ms Brennan: Could I just comment
on the data. Data in the criminal justice system is collected
by all the different agencies using five bar gate systems, bits
of paper, IT systems, collected for their own purposes. When the
Chairman said that sometimes the Committee has had information
from the Met, and so on, which maybe seemed to contradict the
data that the Home Office had, or maybe the Home Office had said
it did not have data, one of the things that the Home Office has
been doing in the past 12 months is to be much more rigorous about
its data. One of the things we have done previously is to collect
a lot of data and then realise afterwards that the quality control
on the collection of it was not always as accurate as it should
be. In relation to ethnicity data we were not collecting consistently
the same standard of information about ethnicity to enable us
to be able to look at issues around race and the criminal justice
system. We did a root and branch review of the data and the statistics
and we have set out a minimum data set now. All the agencies across
the whole of the criminal justice system will collect that data
and we will be able to get consistent data, but at the moment
sometimes there is a bit of a sense of, if you want sentencing
data, for example, the courts have probably picked up ethnicity
data from what the police might have recorded and that is not
always picked up thoroughly and if it is picked up in the courts
it is not always entered on to the courts' systems. So there is
a case that data is collected in some cases but we have not had
the ability to track it through the system and that is what we
are now trying to put in place.
Q632 Bob Russell: Thank you for that.
If I could move on to another area that concerns me, and that
is killing by sharp instrumentsI used to call them kniveswhich
accounted for three times as many deaths overall as killing by
shooting, although I acknowledge that within our inquiry the numbers
are more equal. Nevertheless, knife crime is responsible for three
times as many deaths as gun crime, so what is the Government doing
to tackle knife crime amongst young people?
Mr Coaker: If I could answer that.
We have taken a number of steps with respect to that. If you look
at the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, and this obviously
Q633 Chairman: Minister, I am also
going to say to the Committee that we are going to have a full
session with the Minister on knife crime, so if you could summarise
Mr Coaker: Again, the three approaches
that we take, as I mentioned to Mr Salter, with respect to drugs.
Tough enforcement of the law; through the Violent Crime Reduction
Act we have raised the age that somebody can buy from 16 to 18;
increased the maximum sentence for possession from two to four
yearsso tougher enforcement with the law. Alongside that,
education and alongside that community engagement, so those three
issues, which perhaps, Chairman, we can explore that fully when
Bob Russell: We will return to
that in two weeks' time, but I wanted to put on the record today
that there is more to deaths than just gun crime. Can I just leave
my final point with a plea to Lady Scotland, please do not demonise
the word "gang" when the legislation is being framed.
It used to be a word of endearment, and I certainly would not
want the Scouts' Gang Show to be abolished!
Chairman: Just to explain to the
press and the public, the Committee is having a one-off hearing
on knife crime with the Minister in a couple of weeks' time, which
is why we are moving rather rapidly over that important issue.
Changing tack now, Karen Buck.
Q634 Ms Buck: Thank you. Can I bring
you back to the discussion about the more constructional causes
of criminality, and ask you particularly some questions about
education because there has been a very strong theme in the evidence
that there is an issue about young black children's educational
under-achievement and a strong impression given by witnesses that
that problem in schools, from whatever cause it stems, is itself
a driver of disaffection and can lead, in some cases, to young
people's failure and therefore being on the street, whether that
is because of not being able to look forward to employment prospects
or simply an alienation from the system. Firstly, do you accept
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We
do accept that educational attainment is a real criminogenic indicator
for people committing offences later. We also accept that there
has been for quite some time an issue in relation to the number
of black young people who are excluded from school, and the correlation
between those two seems to us to be important and something that
must be addressed. The Committee may know that in July of last
year I set up an inter-ministerial group on reducing re-offending.
The reason we did that is because the levers to change some of
the criminal behaviour in our streets does not just rest with
the criminal justice system; it rests with the issues that we
are seeking to engage in education. It also rests with the parenting
issue and the way in which we are seeking to support parents to
deal with some quite difficult and entrenched problems that they
have with young people. So Phil Hope and I are working really
hardyou will see in the Education Green Paper on how we
are trying to move this agenda forward. We are working too on
the Safer Schools Partnerships. So, for instance, Vernon and I
had a meeting last week with Lord Adonis and Tony McNulty to talk
about how we could better promote Safer Schools Partnerships.
How do we weave this issue into the plans that we have because
getting an opportunity for children to complete their education,
understanding what may oblige teachers to think that they have
to exclude young people is going to, we believe, have a dramatic
effect. And if you look at those schools which do have the benefit
of a Safer Schools Partnership their ability to keep children
safely in school has been enhanced; their ability to keep children
safe has been enhanced. There is a lot of work for us to do and
we are doing it.
Q635 Ms Buck: Can you explain to
the Committee exactly what constitutes a Safer Schools Partnership
and what is its measure of success?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: One
of the things that the Safer Schools Partnerships bring together
is schools, together with the police, together with the Crime
Reduction Partnerships to look at the sort of factors which are
causing criminal behaviour or dysfunctional behaviour. Some of
it is a group of kids getting out of control when they leave.
What that means is they come together, they have a plan and some
of those plans will involve having a designated police officer
in the school or a community support officer to work with the
school and the children, to build relationships, to garner intelligence
and therefore to interdict this sort of behaviour early because
we really do understand that early intervention works, and in
those schools where they have had that plan they have worked very
well. We all know that two or three years ago, when we started
to talk about Safer School Partnerships, many head teachers were
antipathetic to it; they did not like the idea of a police officer
coming in. That has radically changed. If you talk to head teachers
now they are not talking about the fact that they do not want
them but many schools are saying, "Why do I not have them
because I think this would make a dramatic difference?" So
what Lord Adonis and we are trying to do together is to see how
we can better support the initiatives that are happening in local
areas, but you will know that this initiative has to come from
the Chief Constables; it is within their budget. We cannot oblige
them to do it, but what we can do is to share with them what works
and demonstrate to them that in fact where we have these Safer
Schools Partnerships we have had a reduction in crime, we have
had a reduction in anti-social behaviour and we have had an improvement
for the schools in the number of people who remain at school and
a drop in the number of children who are excluded because of poor
behaviour. That has a material impact because the kids are not
on the street, they are not getting into trouble and they are
Q636 Ms Buck: Does it worry you that
there appears to be evidence of increasing polarisation in schools,
not least on grounds of ethnicity?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Of
course if that is happening that would be extremely worrying,
but you will know too what the Department of Education is trying
to do to address thatalmost a twinning is happening with
schools to bring schools together, to share facilities, to get
to know each other better. These issues, of course, have been
done by education. But of course we are worried if this polarisation
is happening because polarisation brings conflict.
Q637 Ms Buck: On this issue of the
inter-ministerial working group that you have talked about, what
are the success measures and what is the timescale?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: In
terms of outcome we want to see a reduction in re-offending. It
is to support the seven pathways out of offending, and each department
you will see working together with the Department of Work and
Pensions because there is the whole issue as to how we get people
into work; working together with DCLG and that is about accommodation,
which we know has had a significant impact; working with Health
in relation to mental health and drugs strategy.
Q638 Ms Buck: But this is not specifically
geared at school age children.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: It
is geared at all offending, so the Youth Justice Board will sit
with us on the inter-ministerial group.
Q639 Ms Buck: So there is not a specific
process by which you liaise with the Department of Education on
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: There
is because we have the regular meetings through the inter-ministerial
group, and the reason I set up this inter-ministerial group in
July is that we had an officials inter-departmental group driving
this safer communities programme forward and reducing re-offending,
and if you look at the London Reducing Re-offending programme
that is really the sort of model; but we thought that we needed
the departments, the Ministers to better support that so that
we could drive it in each of our departments.
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