Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)



  Q20  Margaret Moran: That would be very useful, yes. You will be aware, I am sure, that access to specialist drug treatment for under-18s is very much a post code lottery, and we know it from our own constituencies. Could you tell us how work that your Department is doing with the Department of Health to tackle that problem is progressing? Could you also tell us how you are addressing the fact that there are many private-sector so-called drug services, many of which are located very often in areas like mine in Luton, in which there are two or three, which are deemed to be (can I put it politely) of variable outcome, and actually may be accelerating problems rather than dealing with them?

  Sir David Normington: I do accept that this is probably one of the key issues, particularly in relation to tackling Class A drug use. It has been a major focus of the overall Government strategy on drugs for the last year to 18 months. I think we see something like a 30% improvement in the coverage of the availability of treatment; but it is still the case, I accept, that it is not everywhere and it is not consistently good everywhere. I know that is a priority for the Department of Health as part of the drugs strategy. I am afraid I do not know about the other point you make about the private companies. I do not know whether the Department of Health or the local Trusts are looking to regulate that; I can find that out for you.

  Margaret Moran: Would you, please.

  Q21  Mr Winnick: Sir David, the country at large as been shocked by the number of young people, some of them well under 20 who have been murdered this year. Has the Home Office taken any special action with the police to look further into these horrifying murders?

  Sir David Normington: We have worked with the police forces and others in the four areas of the country where we think there are particular problems with violence caused by guns and knives, and where gangs are particularly prevalent. That includes Liverpool, it includes Manchester, Birmingham and London. We have had a very targeted effort with them, supporting them with money, to look at what works best in taking guns and knives off the street and in tackling gangs. There is quite a lot of very good local practice, particularly by the police, but often it does not get spread around the country. The programme the Home Secretary has been leading on tackling guns, knives and gangs is focussing very specifically on this. It is quite targeted because, although there is an issue country-wide, it is particularly prevalent in particular places. Last week there was a day when, in each area, the police actually raised the profile of that issue and went in and arrested some people and so on; and also showed the localities the kinds of things they were doing to tackle this problem. We have that, and we also have at national level a ministerial group which is bringing all the departments together with an interest to tackle this. So whether it is victim and witnesses protection, or whether it is getting into the schools on education, it is trying to tackle it at both ends of the problem.

  Q22  Mr Winnick: I believe the number murdered this year, of the category I have mentioned, was 26. Arising from your comments, should there be any optimism that net year there will be less of such killings?

  Sir David Normington: I hope so.

  Q23  Mr Winnick: No, we all hope so.

  Sir David Normington: Of course I am not going to promise you that because I cannot. I think that the action we are taking is very targeted on those areas where we think there is greatest risk. Forgive me for saying it, I do not mean to sound complacent, but the numbers are very small and, therefore, you can get from year to year changes of a few either way. I think it is the case that the number of deaths in this area has been quite stable, and is not actually going up very significantly.

  Q24  Mr Winnick: That is not much consolation for the loved ones who are left behind.

  Sir David Normington: Of course not.

  Q25  Mr Winnick: It goes without saying, I was hardly asking for a promise which no-one is able to give. Looking a violent crime as a whole, there was, according to the statistics, a 7% increase between 2004-05 and 2006-07. That is rather alarming, is it not, considering the categories of violent crime, apart from murder?

  Sir David Normington: That is one of the reasons, when the new Home Secretary published her new crime strategy in the late summer, serious crime and violent crime were highlighted as the area in which she wanted to give particular priority. That is reflected in some of the new targets that we set, because it is worrying. Overall, over a longer period, violent crime has been coming down very sharply. It has been coming down at the same pace as crime overall. In recent times, you are right, there has been an upturn and obviously we are very concerned about it.

  Q26  Mr Winnick: I wonder what you would say to those who argue that to some extent at least, without exaggerating, the increase in violent crime is linked to the relaxation in licensing hours—in many instances it is 24 hours, or near 24 hours—and violent crime cannot really be separated from alcohol abuse?

  Sir David Normington: I do not know whether it is linked to the licensing hours but it is certainly the case that drug and alcohol-related crime are the major issues in our crime problem. I do not think it is related to the licensing hours. I have no evidence of that.

  Q27  Bob Russell: Sir David, you made reference to gun crime and mentioned four of the major cities. You will be aware, because this Committee had a one-off session on knife crime, that knife crime is four times more prevalent than gun crime and is not limited just to the major cities. What is the Home Office doing to address the fact that knife crime is four times more likely to result injury and death than gun crime, yet the sentencing policy does not treat knife crime on the same level as gun crime?

  Sir David Normington: Forgive me, the work we have been doing focuses on guns, knives and gangs. It is about knives as well, and it is looking at whether sentences are proportionate; whether we need to do anything more to the law; as well as looking at the targeted action we need to take. It is also trying to ensure that we make some practical progress in the places where we think there has been the main problem; but also to learn those lessons. We are not neglecting the rest of the country; it is just trying to ensure that we make some progress in places where we think there is a particular need to focus. At the end of March we will take the lessons from that and then apply them elsewhere.

  Q28  Bob Russell: You do accept that knife crime on young men is four times more prevalent than gun crime?

  Sir David Normington: I do not think I have those figures, but it is broadly of that order, yes.

  Q29  David Davies: Sir David, to what extent do you feel that recent changes in legislation, which have made it very difficult, if not impossible, for police officers to search people who have got recent convictions for dealing drugs and carrying knives and who are already stopped for committing minor transgressions? Police offices are unable to search them. To what extent do you think that is contributing to the levels of knife and gun crime, in that young people who are inclined to do this know that they can walk around pretty well unmolested?

  Sir David Normington: I really do not think that is the case.

  Q30  David Davies: It is.

  Sir David Normington: I really do not think it is.

  Q31  David Davies: It is.

  Sir David Normington: There are two things we are doing: one is, we are reviewing at this moment the Police and Criminal Evidence Act which is looking at the police procedures. If that were really the case we would need to change that. I do not believe it is. Secondly, Sir Ronnie Flanagan is also looking at a number of aspects of policing, particularly in relation to the operation of policing and any bureaucratic barriers to their effective operation. We have two ways we are going to pick that up. I am afraid I do not have chapter and verse, but I do not believe what you say is so.

  Q32  David Davies: What if I told you that, as a Special Constable, I have actually stopped people for committing minor offences and POCd them and found they have got recent conviction for carrying knives or dealing drugs and been told that I cannot legally search them because I would be making a stereotypical judgment about the possibility that they might have one at that moment without any evidence to back that up?

  Sir David Normington: I would be very surprised if there is anything in what the Government is doing to encourage that view.

  Q33  David Davies: The Human Rights Act and the stuff that came out after Lawrence.

  Sir David Normington: I do not believe that is the position.

  Q34  David Davies: That is what all police officers are told.

  Sir David Normington: I certainly do not believe it should be.

  David Davies: Thank you.

  Q35  Ms Buck: I am just wondering on that point possibly, Sir David, if you could give us some information now or later about what has actually happened to stop and search figures in recent years. I think the statistics would undermine that argument, whether or not it is true in a specific circumstance?

  Sir David Normington: I will happily provide a note on these points.

  Q36  Ms Buck: Sir David, you mentioned earlier in response to David Winnick's questions about the issue of dissemination of good practice when it comes to dealing with young people and with gang crime and so forth. I think that is a very important point. I want to ask a couple of questions about antisocial behaviour, because I think that is even more true. Antisocial behaviour, unlike crime, as a concept is much less well defined and slippery, and therefore the issue of good practice is much more important; it ranges from chewing gum on the pavement—and I once shared a platform with Hazel Blears who told me of young people rolling round an estate in Salford with machine guns, which I regard as less antisocial behaviour and more a declaration of war! You do actually have a whole range of activities which can be classified as antisocial behaviour. The National Audit Office Report made recommendations on the evaluation of different measures to tackle antisocial behaviour. Could you tell us what progress the Home Office has made on the evaluations?

  Sir David Normington: We committed ourselves in reaction to that Report to do an evaluation of the comparative benefits of using different methods. We have looked at the effectiveness of particular measures, but we have not taken an overall view of it. We have committed ourselves to doing that but that work is not yet completed. There is quite a lot of evidence of what works in individual cases. It is interesting, what you describe of course is a whole variety of things that worry people; but the most prevalent thing is young kids hanging around in a threatening way. That is the thing in public consultations that always come up higher than the other issues. What we have tried to do with antisocial behaviour is develop a series of interventions which you can use which goes from a warning letter to what are popularly known as ASBOs and then the enforcement of ASBOs. What you need is a proportionate response to the problem. Often if you nip it in the bud early then actually it stops. We know that after the first intervention on antisocial behaviour, the first issue of some kind of warning, 65% of people stop doing it. If you get in there early and you have community support you can actually made a very quick impact.

  Q37  Ms Buck: Which is interesting, is it not, because it is often the case at a local authority, another agency level locally, it is that early intervention and preventive work which often fails to be funded. I refer back to the Boyhood to Manhood Project and the fact that it is very hard to evaluate if you do an early intervention what expenditure and what action it has actually stopped. It is not quite satisfactory to say that you are still in the process of evaluation and not give us an idea about when there will be some relatively hard information that at a local level people can use to guide their actions.

  Sir David Normington: To be clear, we do have a website which gives advice to all the local coordinators on antisocial behaviour about what works. That is different from having a research project to say over a long period what works. We do have a website; we do have conferences; we bring the practitioners together and actually exchange best practice. There is quite a lot of work already in place which says: these are the interventions that work: this is what has made a real impact in particular places.

  Q38  Ms Buck: Why has the public attitude, fear and concern about antisocial behaviour not gone down?

  Sir David Normington: It has gone down. It has gone down from about—-

  Q39  Ms Buck: 17% up to 18% and back to 17%.

  Sir David Normington: I think it has gone down from 21% to 18% actually. There are statistics and statistics, are there not. Actually that 17-18% is not a significant change. It has come down from 21-18%. We also have underneath that quite a lot of evidence of what has been happening in particular areas. In some areas there is a very significant decline in anxieties about antisocial behaviour. One of the things we need to do is to link those success stories up with the actions that have been taken.

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