Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 640 - 659)



  Q640  Ms Buck: Is there a target or should there be a target for reducing exclusions and for closing the gap between black exclusion and non-black exclusion?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I think—and I have to be very careful here—that we are across government talking about what our new PSAs should be, and one of the things that we are very interested in, and certainly education is very interested in, is to look at prevention, to see whether we cannot prevent young people from entering into the criminal justice system, and there is debate as to whether that should not be a target. And there is the target, you will know, in terms of disproportionality, because we want to see a proportionate response to how we are dealing with all our different groups.

  Q641  Ms Buck: So at the moment there is not an explicit commitment to reduce the differential between black and general levels of school exclusion?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: There is a commitment certainly, and there is part of the Home Office PSA, to reduce disproportionality. We are working and discussing with other departments as to how that should be better shared and indeed we are discussing with the Department of Education what we can do together in relation to this issue.

  Q642  Ms Buck: One last question. The DfES report released earlier this month found that racial discrimination was a factor in determining the disproportionality in black exclusion; is that something that you accept?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I am sorry; I missed what was a factor?

  Q643  Ms Buck: That racial discrimination was a factor in the disproportionate level of exclusions of young black pupils. Is that something that you accept and, if so, what do you think the Home Office's role should be in tackling it?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We believe that the level of disproportionality cannot currently be explained and we want an explanation, for if it is fair, what is it? I think we are all committed to finding that. We do have at the moment a commitment to reduce but we do not have a target. As I have said to you, we are looking at the moment—and you will know that PSAs will very soon be confirmed—as to what our cross-departmental PSAs should be.

  Q644  Chairman: I will bring Mr Coaker in, and if you come in, Minister, perhaps you could address this question. Have you actually discussed the DfES report on school exclusions with DfES Ministers?

  Mr Coaker: I know Baroness Scotland can say something.

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We have discussed those. As I have said to you, I am discussing how we reduce re-offending, I am discussing disproportionality with Phil Hope, and I am also going to discuss this issue further with Lord Adonis.

  Mr Coaker: Chairman, thank you very much. Very briefly, two additional things which may be of use to the Committee with respect to education. Firstly, is the fact that DfES officials are on the Home Secretary's round-table on guns, knives and gangs as well; so that is the first thing. The second thing is that following the summit at Number Ten Downing Street, Beverley Hughes did write to me from the DfES because we did raise the issue of gun culture and gun crime and the role of extended schools and we wanted to identify more clearly where there were issues with respect to that in particular areas. And our officials, DfES officials and Home Office officials are now working together to look to see how we can make sure that we get a proper geographical spread of extended schools.

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I really do want to emphasise that the reason we set up the inter-ministerial group is that we want to make a difference and we are going to judge our performance by outcomes; not by the number of policies and procedures we have put in place but what difference we make to reducing re-offending. This inter-ministerial group has only been up and running for a period since July—the first meeting was July.

  Chairman: Thank you Minister. We need to move on. Richard Benyon.

  Q645  Mr Benyon: Moving on to family and parenting issues, we have had statistics of the number of black and ethnic minority families with dependent children who have just one resident parent, and we have also had evidence to this Committee of the strong feeling that family breakdown and the absence of strong male role models is a major contributory factor to offending. Do you agree with that statement and what action do you believe should take place to encourage more male role models to have influence amongst young black men in particular?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Firstly we think, as I indicated earlier, that parenting has a huge and can have a huge impact; that the role model, both of male and female role models are very important. So the Young Offending Teams, as you will know, have engaged quite trenchantly in promoting, through the Respect Agenda, the parenting, and they are also looking at the cultural differences of families, so with the Young Offending Teams providing the interventions to parents of all backgrounds and based on risk and need, and ethnicity is one of the factors that have been taken into account, and we have a recent evaluation of the parenting interventions by the Youth Justice Board and it did not highlight there any race disproportionality in the level or types of intervention. But I think it is absolutely critical that we do provide better support for families and positive role models is something that we know can have a very beneficial effect. As Vernon Coaker said earlier, negative role models equally can have a very damaging effect. So we are seeking to better support parents to provide that concrete nurture for children that we know makes a material difference, but also we are trying to address the negative, stereotypical role models that are coming out which have a deleterious effect on young people. So it is doing both.

  Mr Coaker: To help our understanding of that—and I know that you have had Decima Francis here as well—I went to the From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation a couple of weeks ago to talk to Decima with a group of young people and some of the people who work there, to try and get a better understanding of the important work that they were doing and what we could learn from that as we try and develop the policies that Lady Scotland has spoken of.

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: To put it in context, we have about 11,000 young people with final warnings or other community penalties, and the Committee will know that final warnings are actually very successful, and they are being supported by parenting interventions, and where we have parents engaged in this activity we have noticed that there has been a difference between the likelihood of them then going on to need more trenchant interventions. So it is something that positively works.

  Q646  Mr Benyon: You can coerce or support fathers to have more influence in the upbringing of their children and you have spoken of some of those areas, but one of the most impressive bits of evidence we have had before this Committee was Shaun Bailey, and he said to us that he was saved by the cadets; it was the first time that a man had shouted at him and told him to do something and he just did it. He said that that one organisation pulled him out of a pathway which would have led him, he is quite convinced, in the wrong direction. Is it not time to really unleash the power of the voluntary sector into some of these communities to provide just those sorts of positive role models you are talking about?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: You will know that everything that we are doing in terms of the Offender Management Bill was to enable the voluntary sector to be full partners in reducing re-offending, and the voluntary sector has a huge contribution to make, not just in this area but also in a whole series of areas. The Committee will know that I launched in 2005 the Reducing Re-offending Alliances—that is the corporate alliance, the faith-based alliance and the civic alliance, to garner the energy of the community and volunteering, to help us to address some of these issues, and it is about creating really exciting and positive role models in local communities and we want to harness that. I think it would be simplistic to think that only one sector can deliver this; it will take everybody working together to deliver the change we seek. It will need the public sector doing its part, it will need the non-governmental agencies doing their part and it will need volunteers to do their part too.

  Mr Coaker: It is never an either/or with these; it is all of it. As Ms Buck was saying, in terms of schools that is a crucial role; the voluntary sector is very crucial. We have spoken about the From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation; we meet with Mothers Against Guns, the role that they play; but also we talk to Street Pastors. I know that Reverend Isaacs has spoken to you and again it is fantastic work they were doing. I have to say I was astonished because when I went to speak to them about what work they were doing they told me that three-quarters of their pastors are actually women. We all stereotype, and I did not think that that would be the case. So that is positive models, and three-quarters of the people going out and doing the valuable work that they were doing were women, and I think what they are doing is fantastic—both the Street Pastors, From Boyhood to Manhood and Mothers Against Guns, all of those. But it is everything, and this is something that will only be solved by every part of the system, state, voluntary, individuals, all of those things working together.

  Chairman: Gwyn Prosser.

  Q647  Gwyn Prosser: Minister, several witnesses have told us that some of the more extreme forms of rap music and films, which glorify violence and crime, even talking about killing being "cool" can have an influence on the young people and draw them into crime. To what extent do you think that that sort of material is an influence?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I think that that sort of material can have a deleterious influence, but I think it is very difficult to draw a line between legitimate expression of artistic licence and that which is pernicious, and I do think that we have to look very carefully to see whether some of this music is not incitement. You will know that the police and others are looking at it because if it is glorification or incitement to commit a crime then there is an issue that we already have legislation that can deal with it. We have to be a bit cautious though because we know, for instance, that there is a lot of very exciting rap music at the moment, which is done by the pastors to engage young people into positive role models. The YOT teams are doing a lot of rap music with a positive and lifting effect on young people. So I think it is very difficult to target a whole genre of music and say that this sort of music should be eradicated—it is the content which is obviously something of real importance. But it can be inspirational and it can also motivate in the wrong direction too.

  Q648  Gwyn Prosser: You do not see any policy issues arising out of it in terms of the content, other than the legislation you already have in place?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I think it is an issue that we have to look at, but it is one of the things that is so sensitive. Most of the people around this table may remember the mods and rockers.

  Q649  Chairman: That is not the way to endear yourself to the Committee!

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Or the punk rockers!

  Q650  Chairman: That is more like it!

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: So for every generation there has been the generation before who thought that the music enjoyed by young people is reprehensible, excites their passions in a way that is inappropriate and leads them into error. That is about different generations. I think we just need to be a little sensitive about where the line should be drawn because I think that people—and this is before anyone's time—thought that Elvis Presley was a detrimental impact on sexual morality. I have heard about him in the past!

  Mr Coaker: It is very difficult. Again, as the Committee itself raised, I think Mr Winnick raised about Lady Chatterley's Lover and Tom Jones and Delilah, it is a very difficult issue but that is not to understate the fact that we do have to keep it under review and we do have to look at it to see whether we need to do anything, but it is a very difficult area to move into, where you are moving to censorship rather than things that are impacting on people's behaviour.

  Gwyn Prosser: We certainly do not want to ban rap.

  Mr Winnick: Or Lady Chatterley's Lover!

  Q651  Gwyn Prosser: I want to move to the issue of disproportionality with regards to stop and search, and it has been mentioned briefly already. Minister, in 2004 the Home Office stated that by 2008 black people would have more confidence that the criminal justice system treated them fairly, and then it went on to say that the disparity in stop and search would be reduced. We are in 2007 and we are told that you are still six times more likely to be stopped and searched if you are black than if you are white. So have we failed in that target?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I think we certainly are not achieving it and I cannot tell you how frustrating that has been. We have now developed, as I told the Committee, an effective action plan which we developed together with the action teams in terms of trying to better understand what would work, because so many things we have tried in the past do not appear to have worked. This new protocol does appear, in the forces that are operating it, to have reduced the level of disproportionality. So, if you like, we are on our way. Am I disappointed that we have not been able to move faster? Absolutely. It has not been because of lack of energy, it has not been because we have not spoken to as many people as we can. We have brought expertise in from the community and we have asked the community—and young people actually—"What do you think would make the difference? How do you think you would need to be approached so that you would think it was fairer?" And we have put all that into the new protocols that have been rolled out. The only light I can tell you that we certainly have at the end of the tunnel is that in those areas where we have rolled out that approach it does appear to be reducing disproportionality. I am personally very, very disappointed that we have not been able to move more quickly on it, but I think we have to look at every single level of the criminal justice system to try and address this issue. It is getting there but I do not think it is getting there quickly enough.

  Mr Coaker: I went to Choice FM a few weeks ago to talk about this issue with some black people and it started off about the disproportionality, and in the end we had a good discussion because what I said was that stop and search is actually an important tool for the police to have in order to prevent crime, but that disproportionality is an issue. The work that we were doing that Lady Scotland has just alluded to is about trying to do something about that. We have a stop and search community panel, which is chaired by Lord Adebowale, with Doreen Lawrence, and there is a delivery board of stakeholders. So we are trying to do something about that. It goes to the heart of many of the discussions that we are having here today and the discussions that you have had over the last few months of your inquiry, that despite many of these attempts and many of these real efforts to make a difference there is a stubbornness, almost, for it to change. So what is it that will bring about that effective change? Again, to reiterate what Lady Scotland said, in the end the judgment is the change in the statistics and that is what we are searching for, and obviously what your inquiry is trying to help with as well, because clearly a lot of work has been done. If you talk to senior police officers about stop and search they go and talk to young black people, they talk to their officers, there is a lot of training and yet it stubbornly stays at a level at which we would all not wish to see it.

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: There are two things that make me more hopeful. One is the practice-orientated package, because we wanted to give officers something that they could implement in a way that made sense, on the ground. Staffordshire, which is an example, have applied it. They used to have disproportionality at the rate of 4 to 1, and since they have been using this new approach it is 2 to 1; so that is a halving. So we know that these practical things can and do make a difference and we are trying to roll it out right the way across the country, and we hope then to see a reduction. The other thing that will make, I think, a big difference, is that as we get a bigger data set we will be able to compare like with like. I hope that we will be able to move, even if it takes five, 10 years, into real-time data, so that real-time data will be able to be used by practitioners on the ground, by the Chief Constable, by the Head of the Unit, to then disaggregate where disproportionality lies within their own workers. So you will have issues where individual A has a disproportionality rate at 9 to 1, at the stage of individual B having no disproportionality at all of 1 to 1. You are able then as a manager to ask a question: "Why are you 9 to 1 when your fellow worker"—officer, whoever it is—"does not have any disproportionality at all?" That gives us a level of acuity that we have never had before, and it will give us a level of acuity in real-time, so that we can target where are the causes of that disproportionality, and hopefully we will then be able to say who will need to be trained, because we are training everyone at the moment, and we have to assess what is the impact of having done that, who do we have to train and also who do we have to take out?

  Gwyn Prosser: That analysis might give you an unhappy answer. Thank you, Minister.

  Chairman: Moving on, Martin Salter.

  Q652  Martin Salter: I will wrap my questions together—I will not "rap", others on the Committee do that! There is a report by the Youth Justice Board in 2004, which showed that a much higher proportion of black males, 92%, as opposed to 62% of white males, received custodial sentences of 12 months or more—another example of disproportionality. Have you done anything to address this disproportionality and is there anything that you can do at the Home Office to address this disproportionality? And could it be something to do with the fact that—and there is an explanation in the report here—black males are more likely to plead not guilty and therefore not necessarily benefit from the discount, and could that be a factor?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: This is an issue that we are looking at across the criminal justice system, at the National Criminal Justice Board, and it is being dealt with with the Office for Criminal Justice Reform, which is trilateral, because some of the issues about how people get sentenced is that we have an issue about who gets arrested, who gets charged and if charged who gets prosecuted, if prosecuted who gets convicted, if convicted who gets sentenced and why are we seeing a difference in the length of sentences applied to black and minority ethnic offenders compared to others? These are questions which we are asking systemically. So it is not an issue just for the Home Office, it is an issue for us all. You will remember that we have had two Hood Reports; there was the original Hood Report, back in the late 1980s and we have had a more recent Hood Report looking at those issues too. But it is an issue that we want to look at right the way across the criminal justice system and one of the things we are looking at is should there be a target or a PSA to reduce the level of re-offending across the board, because if we do that it will reduce, I hope, the disproportionality as well. There are a number of things we are trying to do with the DCA, with the CPS and ourselves to attack this issue. But at the end, of course, sentencing, as you know, is an independent activity carried out by judges on an independent basis, and we cannot, of course, control the decisions that judges come to, but I think there is an issue about helping to share better information, to help people to come to better informed decisions.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Bob Russell.

  Q653  Bob Russell: Lady Scotland, it has been reported in Parliament that 32% of all black males are on the DNA database in comparison with 8% of white males, and it has been reported more recently that perhaps as many as 77% of young black males will soon be on the DNA database. Are those figures correct?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The figures in relation to 77% I think are correct, and we have to look at why that is. The database, of course, simply collates information properly retained from the criminal justice process. We changed the rules, as you remember, to enable us to retain DNA data on a greater number of occasions than we have had hitherto. At one stage we could only retain data if someone was convicted; then we could retain data if someone was charged, tried and convicted or acquitted. Then we have moved it back to be able to retain data on arrest, and as we have done that we have been able to collate more and more data to the successful extent that we are able to better identify those who have committed crime, but also better identify those who have not committed crime. So it is a sword and a shield.

  Q654  Bob Russell: It is not the same for the white population though, is it?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: No, and that I can say to you is a matter of concern to us because the disproportionality that may be reflected in the criminal justice process is being reflected in the DNA database. Overall, of course, from the statistics available the difference is not so great, so, for instance, we have 84% arrests are white, 9% are black, 5% are Asian, 1% are classified as other and 1% are unknown, and the figures in relation to arrest are reflected in the data sets that were kept.

  Bob Russell: I want to keep to the DNA database because that is where I am putting the questioning. So if three out of every four young black men are on the DNA database.

  Chairman: This is one out of every three at the moment.

  Q655  Bob Russell: 77%, three out of four. Trevor Phillips made the observation—and I am quoting him—"This is tantamount to criminalizing a generation of young black men." Do you agree with him?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I do not think that it is tantamount to criminalizing a generation of black men, but I think the way in which the criminal justice system is operating is something that this Committee is looking at because of the level of disproportionality. The disproportionality in the criminal justice system is being reflected in the figures that we are collecting on the database. So the data that we have reflects the arrest rate, more or less. So it is whether someone is arrested, because at the point of arrest if your DNA is taken and put on the database it does not mean that you are subsequently charged, it does not mean that you are subsequently convicted; but it does mean that your data will be retained.

  Q656  Bob Russell: I think those percentages in that last comment speaks volumes.

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: As I have said, if you look at the arrest rates of 84% white, 9% black, 5% Asian and 2% either other/unknown, the database reflects that arrest proportionally.

  Q657  Bob Russell: I will leave it there and move on now. As the Home Office has a statutory duty to promote race equality why does not the Government collect figures on the ethnicity of ASBO recipients and recipients of fixed penalty notices?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Of course, as we have tried to make clear, we are improving the data set of information that we are collecting. Our main focus, of course, has been to improve the data which we get from those who are arrested, charged and put through the criminal justice system and the full panoply. That is our first and, if I may respectfully suggest, the most important thing we need to do to get a data set which is actually worthy of being used as a management tool.

  Q658  Bob Russell: It is difficult to monitor it though, is it not, if you do not have the information?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We are collating that information more and more, and I do not think we have a complete set, as I have made clear.

  Q659  Bob Russell: My last question is, is there any anecdotal evidence that ASBOs are being applied disproportionality to some ethnic groups?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I have no indication that that is so.

  Mr Coaker: Can I just add to that?

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