Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 660 - 676)

TUESDAY 13 MARCH 2007

RT HON BARONESS SCOTLAND OF ASTHAL QC, MR VERNON COAKER MP, MS HELEN EDWARDS CBE, MS URSULA BRENNAN AND MR SIMON KING

  Q660  Bob Russell: Yes, I asked the question.

  Mr Coaker: Nobody has ever said that to me anecdotally at all.

  Chairman: Thank you. David Winnick.

  Q661  Mr Winnick: Minister, regarding the report by the Criminal Justice System Race Unit at the Home Office, entitled The experience of young black men as victims of crime, it said—and I quote—" ... found that young black men `lacked confidence in the police's ability to deal with victims of crime'" and therefore, in effect, took justice in their own hands. How far do you believe that has contributed?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I am not sure how far it has contributed. I certainly would accept that there was a very important issue about the level of confidence that black people had in the criminal justice system, and that is why we have concentrated quite hard on improving the system so that all people can have confidence, and what we have seen, which is quite pleasing, is an increase in the confidence that the black and minority ethnic community have in the criminal justice system since we have been doing this work. So if you look at the figures from 2003-04 to 2004-05 you will see that there has been a significant rise in the confidence of black people in the way in which the criminal justice system operates. I think there is still a lot more to do; it is an issue, which you will know, is part of the local Criminal Justice Board agenda—it is certainly on the National Criminal Justice Board, which meets every month. We are scrutinising it in terms of the returns from local areas to disaggregate what is happening on the ground, and particularly to try and address this whole issue of disproportionality. We believe that unless we do, we just will not have a criminal justice system that is not only fair, but is seen to be fair. So all the work that we have done on this is very important, and I think we need to do more; but the warming thing, I suppose, is that we are seeing a shift in perceptions and a gaining in confidence and I think we have to push harder and harder. I very much welcome the fact that we are able to look at this every single month and the National Criminal Justice Board and local criminal justice boards are being obliged to look at it too, and give us the returns as to how well they are doing or not doing.

  Q662  Mr Winnick: Obviously if there is progress, as there appears to be, Minister, that is very hopeful. A senior police officer, who obviously you are aware of, Leroy Logan, who gave evidence to us very recently indeed, said—and I quote—"Unfortunately on the extreme view there are certain youth affiliations who have a lack of trust in the criminal justice system and so they rely on their street justice, which is faster". Much has been made about the Macpherson Report and the lack of confidence at the time in the black community, arising from the horrifying murder of Stephen Lawrence. Are you satisfied that the progress has been substantial since the Macpherson Inquiry reported?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I think it has been substantial but I would go back to what Vernon Coaker said. One of the things I think which has alarmed us all is how stubborn some of these issues have been. You think that you have your hands around it and you may have the solution and it comes out the other end so you do the other end and it continues like that. That is why we need to look at the things that are working. We know that some of the practical toolkits that we are doing on the ground are working; the way in which we have approached confidence is working; the need to engage the communities in successful operations is working. If you look at anything that we have done that has been successful—Operation Trident, Operation Trafalgar—all of those operations have had within them an essential element, and that is real community engagement. So we know that if we continue along that line we are more likely to get success, but success for us does mean changing outcomes. I think sometimes there has been a lot of activity and I find myself constantly saying to all of us, to my partners, "And what difference are we making?" because we really have to make a difference. And we are starting to see the things that can and do make a difference and we are starting to put them in place. If I can give you an example of an issue that affects all women but also disproportionality affects women who are disadvantaged, and that is the issue of domestic violence. People said there is nothing you can do about domestic violence, you cannot change it; we have changed it, we have introduced specialist domestic violence courts, we have introduced independent domestic violence advisers, we have introduced the MARACs, which is the Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferencing, and by taking this more holistic, inclusive approach we have been able to change things. And I think that is the same with disproportionality here; we have to be practical, we have to be inclusive and we have to engage the communities themselves to build confidence.

  Q663  Mr Winnick: All that you have just said is very reassuring, but on domestic violence it could be argued that, to some extent at least, it has been changed—apart from political intervention, which is always welcome—by the number of women who are involved in the police force. We know of course that the number of black people in the police force is very small indeed—there is no doubt about that—but how confident would you be about black people joining the police force and not being subjected, in any way going about their daily duties, in the canteen, to banter which many would describe as outright racist. How confident would you really be that the situation has changed so significantly in the last 40 years?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I think we are much more confident of changing that culture than we ever have been, because if you look at the recruitment policies that we have changed, the scrutiny that now goes on in relation to who gets into the police force, the training that is going on, and the fact that we are including the community in neighbourhood policing is a critical part of the service delivery model that we have. How do we do business? We are doing business in a much more interactive community sensitive way and we are making people accountable for that change. We are looking at outcomes and saying that if we are not reducing crime—and I think we need to bear in mind that we have reduced violent crime and we have made these issues better and we need to do more. So are we where we want to be? I do not think we are.

  Q664  Mr Winnick: We are nowhere near where we want to be, surely—nowhere near.

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Exactly, but are we further on than we were? Absolutely. Do we now know some of the tools that we can use to drill down on this and make the change? Yes, we do. Did we know those before? No, we did not. In terms of joining up, why did I create the inter-ministerial group on reducing offending? Because that is exactly what I did to change domestic violence, and when I became Chair in 2003 we were told by a lot of people that we cannot change this. What did we know? If we did it cross-departmentally, if all the departments worked together we could change it, and we have. What do we know about reducing re-offending? Exactly the same thing; it cannot be done by the criminal justice system alone, it has to be done by all the other departments working with us in a very conjoined way, and what I have been really impressed by is the work that we, across the departments, have been able to do since July. We have total commitment from the 11 departments involved; we have work going on not only in England and Wales but also in Northern Ireland. It has made a massive difference. So we may not have got as far as we would like to be, but we are a lot further on than we were and we at least know exactly where we are going and how to get there. That, I think, is a big improvement.

  Q665  Chairman: Thank you, Minister. I am going to move us on because the Ministers have been here for a long time, and we are very grateful to you. Lady Scotland, can I pick up one particular issue which you raised earlier, where you talked about a very vigorous approach by Youth Offending Teams to tackle these issues of disproportionality? It is for the Committee to judge, but we have had witnesses from the YJB in the recent past. I am not entirely sure that they left us with a sense that the centre of the YJB has much influence over how much the Youth Offending Teams are doing locally, in terms of even collecting the basic data that is required to deal with disproportionality. We were told by one member, who said, "I would say that it is patchy and I think it is only fair to say that the willingness of the Youth Offending Teams to embrace this initiative"—that is both collecting data and dealing with disproportionality—"is patchy across the country." This is such a vital part of the system, and you said this yourself.

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: It is, absolutely.

  Q666  Chairman: I know the YJB are arm's length independent, but is it not time for the centre to get a bit more of a grip on Youth Offending Teams and to make it clear that this is not an optional part of the work of Youth Offending Teams and that it has to be central to every one of them?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We are having some fairly robust discussions with all partners engaged in this area and I think it is very important for us to understand the huge difference that the YJB has been able to make.

  Q667  Chairman: I think the Committee recognised overall the achievements of the YJB, but in this particular area.

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: And it is an area which we have to address and we have to highlight with them. So if you look at what is happening with the data that the YJB is going to collect now and the way we will integrate that with the data that we have in the adult estate, so we have it end to end, is why I thought it was very important for the YJB to be on the reducing re-offending inter-ministerial group, because there are three separate strands: there is a strand in relation to what affects women, what affects men but also what affects young people. Disproportionality affects all across the board, so it is a vehicle where we can try to deliver clear messages, shape a joint vision but also craft the way in which we will together deliver it, and that is the way we will have end to end management and also have really well targeted things that we can do to reduce re-offending.

  Q668  Chairman: Thank you. Talking about reducing re-offending, it has been put to us by a number of witnesses that with some young black people becoming involved sometimes in quite serious crimes at a relatively young age we are having—and you said this yourself—to deal with how we reintegrate and rehabilitate people after they have been through the system. It has been suggested to us by a number of witnesses that the cut-off of the Youth Justice Board at age 18 is particularly inappropriate to handling this group of young offenders who may be sentenced to below 18 ending a sentence in the adult prison estate at 18 or 19, and the resettlement needs continue into their early 20s. Has any thought been given as part of the development of NOMS to enabling the YJB or something similar to carry through that support?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I think it has because, Chairman, you are expressing a view that has been expressed by a number of people about the transition from juvenile to adult, and what we are looking at at the moment is young adults—is there something that we should have a set of programmes which would specifically deal with young adults who are in that transition? So it is an issue that I think needs to be addressed and we are looking at how we address it better.

  Q669  Chairman: Is there a sense of timescale for the announcement?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: It is imminent.

  Chairman: Good, we will look forward to it. Richard Benyon.

  Q670  Mr Benyon: Minister, you understand the frustration of community and voluntary organisations with short-term funding and we have had evidence from people who have said that they are announced with a fanfare of publicity, that they are tremendously well received locally but by the time you have them up and running the funding finishes. Can you assure us that there is a more long-term approach being taken to this?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Absolutely. One of the things that we have been working really hard with a number of departments upon is how do we get joined-up delivery, how do we have a common baseline for the Third Sector, so that they know how to apply, and we are doing it collectively in a way that makes sense. We are also looking through the local area agreements as to how we will bring together a bit of synergy across the piece, so that the local area agreement gives us a springboard to look at what that area needs as opposed to sectorial needs, and a bit more long-term. We are doing it too in relation to how we will structure the national offender management process. So that we will identify these in an area, identify who can supply and identify how we can brigade those smaller groups in a way that makes sense. The Offender Management Bill gives us an opportunity to commission, and commissioning will enable us to look at what the voluntary sector can best offer and make sense of that.

  Q671  Mr Benyon: Can you understand that a lot of people operating in some of these communities are expending a lot of emotional capacity—

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Absolutely.

  Q672  Mr Benyon: They are not skilled fundraisers and a lot of the language that you have just used will be alien as to how they approach it.

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Absolutely.

  Q673  Mr Benyon: It has to be put in words that they clearly understand that makes it easy for them to apply for the money and then they can achieve things on the ground.

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I absolutely agree with you because some of the needs that we have in the young people, and indeed some of those who offend, are very specific. Many of the voluntary sector groups have developed an expertise in a niche which the individual may need, and one of the challenges for us is how do we make sure that the energy of the Third Sector is harnessed, that we do not lose the small groups who are doing very valuable work; how do we make sure that consortia of volunteers are still able to deliver what they wish to deliver in a way that is meaningful and has good outcomes and changes the life chances of the people with whom they deal. So we absolutely understand that. What we are doing with the voluntary and community sector engagement programme that we are doing across government is trying to bring that understanding to all of those who fund, so that the Third Sector will have a common approach, a common template with which they can be familiar. It is quite interesting to see how health has changed its funding pattern to fit with local authorities, so actually the funding will happen at the same time, which I know lots of small voluntary organisations will find a real boon. So we are looking at issues like that—very practical, just to make it easier for those who want to volunteer for help to do that, and we think we have a better way forward than we have had.

  Q674  Mr Benyon: The Home Office recently announced that half a million pounds would be made available to community groups in tackling gun crime and gangs as part of the connected fund. How do you anticipate local community groups might spend this money and how will you measure its success?

  Mr Coaker: The connected fund is something that we think is extremely important. I take the point about the sustainability, and that is something that has come up at the round-table; but specifically with respect to the connected fund, what we do see is small bits of money, a few thousand pounds, because what the voluntary sector has said to us often is that it is small amounts of money that make a huge amount of difference at a very local level, and what we are trying to do is to fund very local groups in local communities, whether it be with respect to guns or knives or gangs so that they can make a difference in their own areas. One good example that has been funded is Mothers Against Guns. They have received money, they work locally, they produce leaflets, it pays for some travelling expenses—all of those sorts of things. Those women I know, Chairman, from my own experience in Nottingham, where I meet the Mothers Against Guns in Nottingham, for obvious reasons, they are a fantastic group of people. If you think of Janice Collins or Chris Bradshaw or others, whose sons have been murdered on the streets, through their grief they have worked hard with a small amount of money to say, "We cannot turn the clock back, we will campaign for changes that we think are important, but we will also try and make a difference in our communities," and those are exactly the sorts of groups that we are trying to support and help, replicated across the country as far as we possibly can.

  Q675  Chairman: One last question, if I may. Minister, you have told us about the reducing re-offending inter-ministerial group, which is reducing all types of offending. Is there any structure that is enabling ministers to focus specifically on this question of overrepresentation of young black people?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: It is the CRE Scrutiny Panel doing that with us. We are doing it in probation and police, but can I just say, Chairman, that I really think we cannot just have it in one area. One of the things that is clear is that this issue of disproportionality is systemic and we have to follow it through, right the way through the whole system, if we are going to make the difference that we want to see.

  Q676  Chairman: I understand that, Minister, but you yourself put education, exclusions and so on in the context of reducing re-offending, so we are at one in saying you have to look at the whole system. But I wondered if there was any place at which you and your fellow ministers from the DfES and so on got together to look specifically at all the factors leading to overrepresentation of young black people, whether it be education, parenting, the operation of the police or whatever?

  Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I have used and I will use the inter-ministerial group. The reason I say that, as you will appreciate, Chairman, getting 11 ministers together at any one time is always an interesting challenge, and if you are able to use that vehicle to address the issues that cause re-offending, it is the most useful forum. To take up Mr Benyon's point, I have been speaking to Ed Miliband about Third Sector and the work that we do there; with Phil Willis about DCLGs accommodation because accommodation is an issue, and with others in DWP in relation to how we change that. So it is across the piece because we do see disproportionality in the various areas—in health, and I know that the Committee will have looked at those issues too. So it is all of us really.

  Chairman: We may not have had 11 ministers in one Select Committee, we have had two, and for an extremely long time, so we are very grateful to both of you, and indeed to your officials, for spending so much time with us and for answering the questions so forcefully. Thank you very much indeed; thank you for coming.





 
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